America: a first impression

How exchange students experience living in America

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America: a first impression

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Story by Ruth Heinemann, staff writer

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America is probably one of the most prejudged countries in the world for good and bad reasons. That is why most of the exchange students, including myself, already had a lot of stereotypes in their head before coming to America.

The reason for these preconceived notions can be attributed to  the enormous influence of American pop culture all over the world; from the high number of unrealistic Hollywood movies, to the huge influence of social media. Due to the fact that America is the most popular country for exchange students, there are hundreds of blogs and YouTube channels where they share and talk about their experiences.

Before I came to America, all exchange students were told not to have any expectations. But that was simply impossible since we were subconsciously confronted with the “American lifestyle” and its influence on a daily basis. There was American music on the radio, American movies on TV and American food in German restaurants.

When I got out of the airport in Texarkana, I immediately noticed all of the big trucks in the parking lot. It seemed like Americans thought the bigger the car, the more power you have on the streets. And if you don’t have a car, you always need someone else to drive you. You need a drive to the grocery store, to school and to your friend’s house. There are no sidewalks and there are hardly any people who ride bikes.

Grocery stores are also something that differ from European standards. Most exchange students have heard of stores like Walmart and Target before, but it is hard to imagine what they actually are like. The big variety of products is simply overwhelming.

Compared to Germans, Americans seem to be very talkative. Before I came here, I was not used to random strangers asking how my day was. I do like that about the people here, even though sometimes I find myself wanting to speak in German to someone.

Even though there are a lot of little differences in the daily routine, the biggest one by far is going to an American high school. The school system itself is really different from what I am used to in Germany. Longer school days and a big campus are reasons many exchange students feel exhausted after coming home from school.

Being an exchange student is an adventure, perhaps even the craziest thing I have ever done. But people often don’t know that living in America for one year isn’t all fun. We have to face challenges of all kinds, like living with a new family, making new friends, and speaking a foreign language all day. 

Besides the adventure, every exchange year has its downsides. After the first phase of euphoria, many students begin to face problems like homesickness, but it is the challenges that makes us grow. Many exchange students have expressed that they have become more confident and independent during their time abroad, due to all the obstacles they have to face.

Adjusting to a new environment takes a lot of time. At this point there are still a lot of exchange students, including myself, who are in the process of starting to feel comfortable in America. But knowing that our time here is limited motivates us to enjoy our year as much as we can.