An exchange friend… an exchange what?

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An exchange friend… an exchange what?

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Making friends as an exchange student is like trying to win a track race on your first try. It only takes one day for the panic to grow as you ponder on who to talk to/approach. Once school starts, every exchange student wishes for nothing but other students to notice their presence and make an effort to also reach out to them. Chantal from Senegal, Nicoleta from Moldova-Europe, and I, Mardia from Ghana are exchange students joining North for the school year. Exchange students normally join the school in Early September through to the present days of North High School and resort to their home countries in early June. Apart from the cold chilling weather of Wisconsin, one problem that seems to be larger than a freezing body is friendship. Friendship is one factor that makes a great exchange year; unfortunately, it is the greatest struggle for many.

 In an interaction with Chantal, she talked of how uncertain conversations can be among Americans. One day you can have a conversation with someone new, while another day they pass by as if the both of you had never even exchanged a ‘hello.’ On the first day of school, Chantal was pleased to have spent most of her time with others. She was met by the two other exchange students who happened to be in the same organization as she was in. Not knowing them because she was the last among them to fly to the USA, she had to introduce herself and built a relationship with them easily. The first lunch she had together with them, they had cheeseburgers. She didn’t like the mustard then because it’s not really a traditional Senegalese food, “but the ketchup tasted just fine,” she said. From that first day, it felt like those two were the only friends she was ever going to have, but after joining the choir class, she realized there were more friends out there than she had first thought. She talked to many other choir mates, as well as students in other classes and tried to form a basic friendship with them. Some days passed by and she grew frustrated by the atmosphere of friendship with Americans. Back in Senegal, when one has their first conversation with a stranger, the next time they meet they are no longer strangers. They recall their first conversation and build a stronger relationship from it, but as she quickly realized, it was the opposite situation with Americans. With just a few days passed by, more than half of the students she had spoken to in the days before seemed to be completely ignorant of who she was. They passed by, not moved to utter any words. She said, “Some people just make life difficult. They don’t great but when you do, they don’t respond to it!” Her sincere but harmless expression of frustration did not outweigh the fact that there were some that simply couldn’t resist her charming personality. Chantal is a ‘crazy,’ fun, and energetic African girl. Her love for an open chat with anyone, no matter their age, did pay off in her exchange year. She has been able to keep quite an impressive number of friends of about 15 of them as compared to the 9 friends an average American would have. One friend that she gets to hang out with almost every day, even at lunch, goes by the name Tran Yen Nhi. Tran is one of her classmates in school and also shares the same lunch hour with her so, they get to chat more and also get to schedule activities outside of school. Overall, Chantal’s picture of friendship is a mixture of bitter and sweet. She came to North High School hopeful of making friends, got frustrated by some unpleasantries, and ended up with true friends at the end.

On the other end of the story lies another exchange girl who has had a good relationship with lots of people as far as she can recall. Nicoleta Lavrik is from Moldova, Europe, and she came to the USA speaking very little English. She was placed in a beautiful family where she had four other host siblings who were amazing. She later moved to another host family which happened to be Chantal’s Family, making both of them exchange sisters. She didn’t have any negative memories making friends because she was a little reserved when it came to meeting new people.  She was content with her exchange student friends until she joined the school cross country team. There she was able to interact with her host brother more, as well as make new friends. She enjoyed running, even though she was not one of the best runners. When the cross country season was done, she didn’t lose all her friends, she is still friends with most of them who stuck around. One other place she got to have more friends was from joining choir class. Aside from singing, there is definitely one thing choir does for exchange students, and that is socialization and finding true friendship. At lunch, Nicoleta has a table full of friends which are comprised mostly of Mexicans and Cubans that she talks with almost every day. She also schedules outside of school activities with her friends and enjoys volunteering at church. At church, she still gets to interact with her host siblings from her first host family and makes more friends in the process too. Aside from friends, hanging out with family, and doing program activities, Nicoleta’s life revolves around candy. She stocks up her own drawer in her room with candy each month but doesn’t mind sharing only on the condition that one asks for it.                                        

I am the last of the three, Mardia. Project-based, competitive, but ready for fun. My home country is Ghana in Africa, and I flew to the USA about the same day as Nicoleta. I was met at the airport by my loving host mom and ‘sassy’ energetic host sister Kylie. During my first days in the US, I had the privilege to partake in the farmers market, volunteer at a ‘Back to School Park’ project, and ate pizza as my first American home food. Before school started I had the opportunity to pre-tour the school, so I didn’t have much trouble getting around during my first days at North. Making friends for me has been very overwhelming. I couldn’t join the choir class because it was full. Similarly, I could not join a cross country or any other field event because of conflicts with my host parents’ schedule. The first friend I made in school, apart from my exchange friends, was Danika, a friend I found on my school bus. I refer to her as my ‘bus friend,’ but we have also had interactions outside of school because we happen to be in the same church even before we knew each other. One other friend I get to interact with is Amanda in my World Literature class. Amanda always has time to listen to me no matter the topic. She is one of the few who has made my stay in an American school more interactive. I have more friends aside from the two but the rest are more like ‘Hello’ friends. I have done my best to make more friends, but Americans just seem too busy to actually settle for serious friendships with new people. Perhaps this because they are content with old lasting relationships they already have with friends they have lived their whole lives with. When I first started school, I was very excited when I found out there was another Ghanaian student in one of my classes. I hoped to at least build an easy relationship with someone who is of my own country, but I realized as time passed that he was also locked up in his world of school, work, and after-school engagements. In Ghana, most of my friends are guys because to me they are more easy to get along with, but here, I haven’t any male friends really. It stresses me out sometimes but my girlfriends make me happy too.

Friendship, we can say is the journey of the unknown. Everyone, no matter the personality they develop, has a part in them that calls out for friends. You have lived your whole life having one friend or just a group of friends you hang with. Has it crossed your mind how you became friends with them again? If yes, was it that easy?… Yes, the feeling is uncertain but your ability to make an exchange student feel at home in your home, America, is big and impactful. Make them smile, and they would bring the world to your home.

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