Foreign exchange makes lasting impact

Foreign+exchange+makes+lasting+impact

Grace Vance

From the time she was young, a sense of global curiosity was instilled in junior Isabel Dyke. As a small, blonde and intellectual girl, she found delight in meeting new people, hearing foreign languages and listening to the latest French pop hits. Throughout elementary and middle school, she went through what she calls “language phases,” where she was too young to commit to learning a single language and switched constantly. Even her tenth grade birthday party invitations reflected this passion — Japanese phrases she had learned were sprawled across it. Despite never growing up in diverse cities and her family being “completely white,” she said cultural interest has been consistent throughout her life.

“When I was little my favorite toy to play with was a plastic globe that had a game feature where it would name a country, nd I had to press that country with this little pen that was attached. The goal was to get as many as possible in a minute,” Dyke said. “I spent hours doing this when I was about preschool [and] kindergarten age. Then I got older, and my love of geography morphed into a love of foreign cultures and eventually into a love of languages.”
Now, as a foreign exchange student, Dyke has left the familiar walls of HHS for the quaint city of Bourges, France, whom she describes as a “classic French valley town.” For her, becoming a global student was a natural next step.

“I wanted to be a foreign exchange student because I have always been interested in foreign cultures, and particularly foreign languages,” Dyke said. “I love to travel and meet new people, try new food and see new sights from all around the world. Being an exchange student is one of the only ways a high schooler can do this, so I thought it would be a good start for me.”

Dyke has a long history of studying language. Since beginning her first French class in middle school, she can now speak French fluently. In her sophomore year of high school, she started taking Chinese and considers it her next strongest language. Additionally, she is also studying Korean — this language, along with French and Chinese, she learned primarily from self-instruction. Despite her academic preparation, Dyke still found herself surprised by the subtleties of French culture.

“My main preconceived expectation before coming to France was that it wouldn’t be that different from the United States. However, the amount of subtle differences here really surprised me in the beginning. French people say things that no one would dare say in the United States, and other subjects that I talked about comfortably in the United States are off limits here,” Dyke said. “Group conversation etiquette is completely different, even at school. I find that my classmates are amazingly polite and inclusive with each other compared to what I was used to in the United States, while strangers outside of school, unless you’re meeting them at a soirée [evening party,] are surprisingly cold and standoffish.”

Hyunjoong Kim also experienced culture shock when he traveled from his country South Korea to the United States on foreign exchange.

“In Korea, we strictly have courtesy to people who are even one year older than yourself but in America it seemed pretty normal to challenge anyone, regardless of age,” Kim said. “Some people did show some interest in Korean culture, especially about K-Pop, but unfortunately not many people knew about South Korea at all. [Everything] they talked about [was] related to North Korea.”

Even though he was immersed in American culture during the two years he lived in the United States, Kim still had familiar sentiments of Korea around him.

“There were a few Korean friends who were raised in America but could still speak Korean fluently, and there were also people at the Korean church who gave me a lot of help,” Kim said. “I did participate in a school event called Global Village where I could introduce Korean food, celebrities, traditional clothes and so on.”

Rotary youth exchange specialist Carissa Coons said their program is targeted to high schoolers and is open to students aged 15 to 19. She said foreign exchange trips can last anywhere between a few days to an entire year.
[quote cite=”Isabel Dyke”]I love to travel and meet new people, try new food and see new sights from all around the world. Being an exchange student is one of the only ways a high schooler can do this, so I thought it would be a good start for me.[/quote]“Exchanges can be either short term, ranging from several days to several weeks, or long term, spanning an entire academic year,” Coons said. “Applicants are selected by a sponsoring Rotary club on the basis of a written application and a personal interview. Qualified applicants are above average students who demonstrate community involvement and possess the potential to be an excellent cultural ambassador.”

Dyke, who is on her exchange through Rotary, said the most difficult part about being on foreign exchange so far is how adaptable she has to be when it comes to changing host families. In the 10 months she has been in France, she has lived with a total of three families.

“One family I spend the vacations with and another, whom I’m with right now, I’m only spending two weeks [with] because my second host mom broke her elbow skiing and can’t drive me to school, so I’m constantly adjusting,” Dyke said. “Needless to say, I’ve become a lot more flexible than I used to be. Every family is different, and it’s my job to adjust to each different dynamic.”
While Kim has been back in South Korea for one and a half years now, he said he experienced the most surprise adjusting to his home country than when he first came to the United States.

“It was weird to see all those black-haired people and [hearing] everyone speaking Korean. I did go back to my normal routine very quickly, but did try to keep the active attitude of the Americans,” Kim said. “I definitely enjoyed my experience there. Getting to know people from different cultures, traveling around the country and just relaxing from too much studies were all very good.”

While Dyke anticipates she will leave France in June or July of 2016, she is already feeling the after effects of foreign exchange.

“One French woman told me ‘French people are very, very good friends to have, but it takes a very, very long time to make them,’” Dyke said. “Right now my biggest challenge is to not feel bitter about the fact that I’m not here long enough to form many close relationships and just accept this as part of the experience.”

Still, she looks forward to the future. Since applying to the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad scholarship in the fall, Dyke has placed as a semifinalist. If accepted, she said she will most likely go to Morocco. If rejected, she will return to the United States, but not to go to high school. Instead, she will graduate early, and hopes to attend an American university in Singapore, China or Taiwan to “perfect” her Chinese.

“There are so many more countries to see and languages to learn that I don’t have any desire to spend more time in just this one,” Dyke said. “Sixteen years in one country is more than enough for me. If I don’t get the scholarship to go abroad next year I’ll definitely bring back some French dessert recipes, but that’s it.”