The Exchange Student Experience


Clarion photo Anna Suydam

Cleveland’s 2021exchange students gather for a photo. (Left to right) They are Matteo Pozza, a senior from Italy, Luisa Martin Peinado, a junior from Spain, Clara Hipolito, a senior from Portugal, and Tomas Klucka, a senior from Slovakia.

What is being an exchange student at Cleveland like?

Have you ever wondered about how different life is in a foreign country? Well, this is what exchange students experience every year across the world. Cleveland is a place that usually welcomes a lot of exchange students, around 10-12 every year.

This year, due to COVID restrictions, it was hard to join an exchange student program, and many people had to give up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are four exchange students at Cleveland this year: Me, Matteo from Italy, Luisa from Spain, Clara from Portugal, and Tomas from Slovakia.

What most surprised all of us was the school’s size and student capacity. In Europe, our high schools are still pretty big, but they reach a maximum of a thousand students. Moreover, high school students in Europe never go to a different class during a regular school day. It’s the teachers who rotate between the classes. When the bell rings it establishes the end of a period just like here, however, there are no passing times and the next class starts whenever the teacher arrives. The main difference between a European high school and an American high school is the fact that American students are allowed to pick their courses every year. In Europe, once you finish middle school, you only get to pick what type of subjects you mainly want to study and focus on throughout high school.

I interviewed Tomas, an exchange student from Slovakia. During the interview, we spoke about what surprised him the most. He stated that the school’s lockdown drill was a really strange and scary experience. This is because in Europe school shootings never happen because guns are illegal.

It’s safe to say that at Cleveland the welcoming spirit is amazing. This is what every exchange student who has been to Cleveland says generally surprised them the most. It is really important, because for exchange students, it’s not easy to leave their homes, their families, their friends, their cultures and traditions, to take a huge step towards the formation of themselves and towards their future. They go to a new place where they don’t know anyone, leaving everything behind them without looking back.

I remember crying on the plane from Milan to Portland. I was really sad because being separated from my family for six months is hard. I remember seeing my parents’ bright tears on their cheeks when I hugged them for one last time before heading towards the security at the airport. It was an emotional time for both of us as they saw their little child who they held and raised, becoming a little man, taking a huge step towards his future and leaving their “womb.” I was really sad about leaving everything behind, heading towards a new life that I had no idea how to face.

This is how every exchange student feels when he leaves his life behind to start a new one. He doesn’t know what to expect from it, how he’s going to face it. He doesn’t know how he can integrate with another country, in a different community, and a new family. Life is full of challenges, difficulties, and fears; by facing and tackling them you will eventually learn how to deal with them in the future. Also, if you want to be successful in life, you have to learn how to adapt to new environments and how to adapt to new situations. This is why a lot of teenagers choose to become exchange students.

This article was written by Matteo Pozza, an exchange student from Italy at Cleveland.