Foreigners' first impressions

United States scores high with international students studying in Hagerstown

United States scores high with international students studying in Hagerstown

September 21, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Backyard barbecues. Pool parties. Football. Fellowship. These and other aspects of American life have made a lasting first impression upon three foreign exchange students at North Hagers-town High School.

Too bad there's no real French bread in Hagerstown.

"That's what I miss the most, the bread," said 16-year-old Fabian Guillotin of France, who's living with Todd Roberts in Hagerstown.

Fabian, Tomas Hahn of Germany and Thinh "Andy" Nguyen of Vietnam said they wanted to study in the States to improve their English skills and learn about American culture by living it.


"I knew this country had a lot more things I could study and open my mind," said Andy, 17, a senior living with Diane Gill in Hagerstown.

He and his peers said they've been surprised by the friendly and outgoing nature of the Americans they've met.

"It's not like it is in the movies, where American families seem crazy," said Tomas, 16, a junior living with Colleen and Daniel Watson in Williamsport. Colleen Watson is the German language teacher at North High. "Americans are so open to everyone from other nations."

"Everyone is friendly" in the country that's "very big and different" from his own, Andy added.

Academic adventurers

Maggie Terry of Frederick, Md., this year partnered seven international students with Tri-State area families through her work as regional director for Academic Year USA - on the Web - a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco. Terry found host families in Hagerstown, Williamsport, Shepherdstown, W.Va., Westminster, Md., and Germantown, Md., for students from Germany, Japan, Kuwait and Brazil.

"These students are bright, intelligent, interested in life and, I think, very courageous," Terry said.

Not all international students have excellent English skills, she said, and many have never been to the United States before.

Tomas, Fabian and Andy - all U.S. first-timers - said kind teachers and classroom peers are helping them adjust to an academic program that differs dramatically from the educational programs in their home countries.

In Vietnam, teachers - not students - move from class to class, Andy said. He's also used to more rigorous math course work and 11 mandatory subjects on his school schedule.

"There is more choice here," he said.

Fabian said his academic classes in France are more challenging, less flexible and longer than his junior-year classes at North High. In France, he attends high school from 8 a.m. to about 6 p.m., with a two-hour break for lunch.

Tomas is used to crunching 14 or 15 classes into his 6 1/2-hour school day in Germany. His course work is easier here, but the day is longer at North High, he said.

"In Germany, I have to do much more work because I have more classes," he said.

Sports and recreation

The international students said they're impressed with American sports and travel opportunities.

"I like that there's a lot of sports here, especially football," Fabian said. Both he and Tomas play soccer - not the "football" that Fabian likes watching on U.S. TV - at North High. The teens said they've been surprised at the local media attention that high school sports attract.

"In France, they don't care about sports in high school," Fabian said.

Andy said the U.S. media is more concerned with everyday life than is the media in Vietnam.

Andy, Tomas and Fabian are excited about getting to travel throughout the United States during their school year abroad. Andy especially enjoyed his trip to Universal Studios in California but wasn't so crazy about Disneyland. The lines were too long, he said.

Fabian will trek to San Francisco during the Thanksgiving break. Tomas expects "lots of traffic" when he visits New York City.

And what about American girls?

"They're taller, less natural, more easy-going," Andy said.

"They're fatter here," Fabian added.

"For me it was new that they sit in class and put on makeup," Tomas said.

The guys pinpointed one universal truth among females: Girls everywhere like to shop, they said.

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