Sturgis, Mich. —This year, 10 exchange students have been part of Sturgis High School. They’ve been living with local families and learning the culture.
Why would these high school students leave the security of their home and family to spend the school year abroad?
“To experience something new,” said Maari Lehtoviita from Finland.
“To improve English skills,” said Jelena Perovic from Montenegro.
“To make friends overseas and see how they live,” said Inna Fedoriak from the Ukraine.
“To leave everything and just try to deal with everything by ourselves,” said Juliette Grignard of Belgium.
Most of the students said their parents were supportive, but Arman Azizyan from the Republic of Armenia took a different route.
“I participated secretly,” Azizyan said.
He had to make it through three rounds of elimination to qualify as an exchange student candidate. After the third, “I told them when I needed their signature,” Azizyan said.
Because his country was part of the former Soviet Union, Azizyan didn’t have to pay the fees normally charged exchange students. That was one reason his parents had less cause to protest.
All the students said their high school classes here are easy compared to what they are used to at home.
Grignard has heard students complain about AP calculus but it is exactly what she would have expected for an advanced math class.
Marri Lehtoviita from Finland agreed with her. “AP classes are like our normal classes,” she said.
Fedoriak found psychology to be more difficult, but it was mostly a language barrier.
They all said government class was difficult. Most never studied United States government nor were they encouraged to.
But Americans don’t know geography, several said. When they tell people where they are from they often hear “Oh” like the person knows or “Oh” like that’s interesting but they have no idea where it is.
“Someone thought Belgium was in Africa,” said one of the students.
When it comes to knowing languages, all speak two and some more.
Perovic speaks Serbian, Russian, English and German.
Fedoriak speaks Ukrainian, Russian, English and is learning German.
English is required early in their education, said Perovic.
But there are some options in Sturgis that Grignard doesn’t have in Belgium.
“We don’t have arts and sports,” she said.
Jewelry making and photography classes in high school amazed some of them.
In fact, the having optional classes isn’t typical to most of their countries. They have a core curriculum with no frills.
Almost all of the students live in large cities so being in a rural area like Sturgis is quite an experience. Not having having public transportation is another novelty.
Some complained that there is nothing to do in Sturgis but Robin Sanders from Germany told them to get involved in sports like he did. Then they’d be busy.
A few students talked about the fact that their year is more than half gone.
“It’s been really fast since Christmas,” one of them said.
Perovic said she loves her host family but the time away has caused her to appreciate her family and culture more than ever.