Leesville Exchange Students Review on America

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All five of Leesville's exchange students enjoyed their first and last prom together. They got ready together and went to Sara P. Duke Gardens to take pictures! (photo courtesy of Elsa Hermann)

This year Leesville welcomed five exchange students from Europe — Elsa Hermann, Ines Hernandez, Salma Mekki, Rebeka Mayerova, and Daniela Freund–all juniors. 

One decision brought them together in North Carolina. After talking to them, I think it is safe to say that their decision created lifelong friendships and lifelong memories. 

The girls arrived here in August and were placed with different host families. They have made the most of their year here and wanted to share all their thoughts as they prepare to head back home.

Elsa Hermann

Elsa is from Stuttgart, Germany. She was inspired to be a foreign exchange student by her brother who went aboard a few years ago.

Hermann said, “I always wanted to see a different way of life, go to an American high school, and make international connections.”

When she first arrived, she was shocked by how big everything was, and that one store could have so many things. She was also surprised about the amount of plastic people use here, but she adjusted quickly.

While at Leesville, Hermann played lacrosse, ran cross country, danced in the spring dance concert, and joined various clubs.

Her favorite American slang she learned was “She eats’ ‘, “slay’ ‘ and “munching’. She plans to take all of the new slang back to Germany, even though she might receive some weird looks. 

This year Hermann had the chance to travel to Washington DC, New York, Florida, Georgia, and California with her host family.

When it comes to host families, Hermann was fortunate to have such a loving family. They treated her like their own and were a big part of her experience. Hermann said, “I will definitely stay in contact… my plan is for them to dance at my wedding.”

Hermann gushed about how welcoming and kind everyone had been to her. Alongside her friends and host family, she will also miss Chick-fil-A and the fun of American high school. 

“This year I became more independent, more confident, and more open. I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone, and that’s something that will help me later in life,” said Hermann.

Overall, Hermann gives America 100/10, and she can not wait to come back and visit!

Ines Hernandez

Ines is from Madrid, Spain. She wanted to become an exchange student to experience new cultures and socialize in another language. 

Hernandez was excited to play American sports and try new fast-food chains. She joined the lacrosse team and the junior powderpuff team. She loved the pep rally and going to prom. 

Most of her weekends consisted of hanging out with friends, going shopping, and attending concerts. She took many trips to the beach, went skiing, and visited Disney World!

When it comes to American slang, Ines has learned a lot. She keeps a list in her notes app called “words that make me laugh/impact”. This list includes “tuxedo, thunder, Coachella, buzzcut, ostrich, esophagus” and many more. 

Along with food, the culture can also be shocking. One thing Hernandez was shocked by was how much people burp because in Spain it’s considered rude to burp in public! She was also surprised by how early everything started here.

“This year has changed the way I talk to people. I have learned how to not be shy and be who I am. I also tried to learn how to do a backhandspring but it didn’t go well.”

Hernandez said, “I’m going to miss school. It is actually so fun here. I’m also going to miss all the sports and dances because we don’t have that fun stuff in Spain.”

Hernandez said, “I give America a 9.5/10 because perfection does not exist!”

Salma Mekki

Salma is from the south of France. She grew up watching American television and has wanted to experience what she calls “her American Dream” ever since. She wanted to learn how other people live and embrace different cultures. 

Salma swam and ran track for Leesville and was the lacrosse team manager. She also performed in the spring dance concert and played in the powderpuff game.

She took several trips to the beach, but her favorite trip was going to Oak Island over Memorial Day weekend. She enjoyed trying seafood at Fishy Fishy.

Her favorite American slang is the phrase “be so for real”. Her friends commented that she says it all the time!

When asked what the most shocking thing about coming here is, Mekki said, “The people and friendship. we [in France] don’t have the same way of thinking and the same way of living. It was hard to get used to at first.” 

Mekki is proud that this year she improved her English and gained new life experiences. She told me that she feels more mature and understands the world so much better now.  

Mekki lived her American dream, giving her experience a 1000/10.

Rebeka Mayerova

Rebeka is from Prague in the Czech Republic. She joined the exchange program to learn about a new culture and go to an American high school. At her school in Prague, it is very common for students to do an exchange year — so common that twenty of her classmates also decided to live abroad this year. 

Rebeka was placed with the same host mom as Salma, and the three of them spent many weekends traveling to the mountains and beach. When they weren’t traveling, they went to festivals, museums, and shows all over the Triangle.

During one of the beach trips, she tried alligator bites, which surprisingly she didn’t find too bad. Her favorite restaurant here was Mongolian Fire, where they cook your food right in front of you.  

Mayerova said, “I’m going to miss the people mostly. I think the people make the place.”

When asked how this year impacted her Mayerova said, “I feel like I’m aware of more stuff, like before I was just in my small little bubble but now I’ve discovered more things”

She gives her American experience a 100/10!

Daniela Freund

Daniela is from Munich, Germany. She wanted to do an exchange year here to improve her English, have new experiences, and meet new people. 

Freund and her host family traveled to Maine over Memorial Day weekend, she enjoyed the beach there and spending quality time with her host family. 

The most interesting food Freund tried during her stay was fried pickles. She said it wasn’t the worst thing, but she definitely would not eat it every day. Her favorite restaurant was the Mexican restaurant Salt and Lime.

She was most shocked by how much fast food Americans consume, and how many fast food chains there are. She was also surprised by the amount of car usage and our lack of public transportation.

Freund said, “My favorite phrase I leared was ‘he’s a good egg’; my host parents say that one a lot.”

Freund values the friendships she has formed here, especially with her host family. As she heads back home she will miss them most of all. 

Throughout her time here, Freund said, “I have become more open to different ways of life, and I’ve gained so many experiences that have shaped me.”

Daniela gives America an 11/10!

Thoughts from Leesville

We have heard what our international friends had to say about the United States, but what do we have to say about them? 

Ava Maclamore, sophomore, met Salma in speech class. She said “Salma is so funny, and she gets along with everyone…and is really easy to talk to.

Eva Wilson, sophomore, met Elsa in AP psychology. Wilson said, “She impacted me so much this year by becoming one of the most meaningful friendships I’ve ever had. To know someone who brings so much positive energy to my life was such a refreshing feeling. It was truly an inspiration and a gift to have as a part of my sophomore year.”

Elijah Bare, junior and Daniela’s host brother said, “ [The exchange students] have been an amazing group of friends. I have learned so much and experienced so much from them…I won’t forget them, especially Daniela, I think I have made some lifelong friendships.”

Abby Coughlin, sophomore, said, “ Ines is one of my best friends, she so funny and fun to hang out with and I’m so sad she is going to be going back to Europe so soon”

Coughlin also got to know Rebeka, she said, “Rebeka is so nice and kind and I am so glad I got to hang out with her.”

Leesville has been overwhelmed by the love and culture the exchange students brought to us this year. We have been so lucky to have them and they will be thoroughly missed next year. 

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