To have the experience to learn in a foreign country is an incredible opportunity — an opportunity many students across the world partake in each year. Students abandon their home town and school to spend the entire school year away from their parents, in a different country and with a host family they’ve never met before.
Students decide to participate in the exchange program for a number of reasons, but for Luiza Lopez, junior, there were three in particular that stood out: to know what the program is like, to learn more about herself and to break away from her parent’s watch.
Any other year, Lopez would be living in Brazil, speaking Portuguese, and wearing a uniform to school, but this year things are different. Lopez is attending public school for the first time and has to speak English throughout the entire day. She has to rebuild a circle of friends and attend classes taught entirely in English — including one focused solely on writing.
“It’s hard to go somewhere and not know anyone, and be in a different culture, and to basically be away from everything you know,” Lopez said.
For some, this total submersion could induce a culture shock, but Lopez is coping. America (and Leesville, specifically) differs greatly from Lopez’s home in Brazil. In Brazil, Lopez attended a private school, much like most other Brazilian students, where the students never changed classrooms — the teachers did. She wore a uniform, had six, forty-five minute classes a day and an exam every Tuesday. In Brazil, Lopez says, people are more open and warm.
“That’s the Brazilian way,” said Lopez.
Despite the great differences, she remains strong.
“[My host family] is awesome. Obviously, they are not my real parents, but they treat me like I am their real daughter,” said Lopez.
The Berwick Family is hosting Lopez during her stay in the states after finding out about the program through their church.
While Lopez is here, she will experience life in North Carolina like a local for the entire school year. Lopez says being this far from her home for such a long time is difficult.
Despite Portuguese being Lopez’s first language, Karen Harker, who teaches Creative Writing, Lopez’s second period class, says Lopez has a great command over the English language.
“Her sentence structure, word choice, and basic grammar and mechanics are as good as (if not better than) her peers,” said Harker in an email interview.
Harker believes having a student from a completely different culture in a class benefits the other students, giving them a more open world view and expanding their knowledge.
“In her writing, she incorporates parts of the Brazilian culture, tells stories of her family and friends back home, and creates a nostalgic view of her life back home,” Harker said via email.
Lopez’s influence has not only affected students; Harker says it has been beneficial to her as well, giving her greater cultural awareness as a teacher.
Foreign exchange programs are life changing for anyone who partakes in one. The programs build international relationships among students and create global citizens. They expand your world view and send you home with a greater fluency in the language of the country you lived in and a potentially different outlook on life.
“[The program] has made me be more open and less shy, like I go and I talk to people, because, otherwise, you end up being alone,” said Lopez.
The foreign exchange program is an enterprise unlike any other, and Lopez has the chance to undertake it. For the rest of her life, she will never forget her year at Leesville, nor her decision to take on the venture. Hopefully, Leesville will make sure the venture is great.