The Foreign Exchange Experience

This year five people from four different places have traveled to America to spend time in a new culture. While there are many hardships involved it is a great experience and something that could impact the rest of their lives. (Photo Courtesy of Gretchen Stern)

Foreign exchange is a unique opportunity for an exciting adventure: Students are part of a program where they study abroad at a partner institution of the program they are a part of. These students travel to a new place and spend anywhere from six to ten months immersed in a new culture. They live with a host family, go to school, and experience everyday life in their host country. 

This is an adventure some experience in college, some in high school. This year five students have joined the Leesville Road High School community participating in foreign exchange. 

For these five students America was an exciting prospect. “My English in Germany was not so good,” said Cedric Umbreit, a junior at Leesville from Germany. English is the second most spoken language in the world. If someone learns in English in a place where it is not the dominant language, there is only so much one can learn. 

“I’ve always been fascinated about the states and the concept of living here,” said Filip Gawlinski, a student from Poland. “I just wanted to see how it really is.” Television, music, and social media gives people all sorts of mixed conceptions about American life. For example, high school in “High School Musical” isn’t exactly reality. 

Every area has its good parts as well as its issues, and foreign exchange gives people a chance to see how another place compares with their home.“[Differences] range from people’s attitude to even roads.” Gawlinski said. “The standard of living is different, not better not worse, just different.”  

“Sometimes it’s a bit strange because the culture is different,” said Paula Horsch, another student from Germany. She went on to explain that in her school back home they always need to raise their hands and stand when the teachers walk in. “Everything is different, we have another system of school so the school is different [and] the subjects are different,” said Sophia D’Innocenzo. Back in Italy, her home country, she would be in the year equivalent to a senior. 

“There are really small details you miss about your home country,” said Martin Cajka, a student from Slovakia when asked about the challenges of foreign exchange. However, these high school students are facing not days, but months away from their families and everything they are familiar with. “Sometimes I feel homesick, sometimes it’s hard but it’s good,” said D’Innocenzo. 

Participating in foreign exchange involves having a host family. “My host family is amazing, they are very organized, there are a lot of people in the family. They really take care of me and everything” said Gawlinski. These families hosting the students not only get the joy of teaching them about life in America but also learning a bit about the student’s home country. 

Despite all the differences between cultures and daily lives these students are finding ways to fit into the daily life of a high school student in Raleigh, North Carolina. In school they take normal classes with everyone else. “Spanish is easy but math is very hard,” said Umbreit.  I’m taking math, chemistry, english honors three, and american history two,” said D’Innocenzo. They also participate in extracurricular activities. For example, Cajka is playing in the varsity soccer team. 

“My advice would be they shouldn’t worry because it’s going to be amazing,” Cajka said when asked what his advice would be for others thinking of undertaking this adventure. There is no better way to open your mind and see the world than by going to another country and submerging yourself into the life of the people that live there. 

There are bound to be hardships that go along with it, but the experience will impact your life forever. 


  1. Thanks for writing this thoughtful article. We are the host parents to Martin Cajka, and we think he is absolutely amazing!


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