After an almost 16-hour-long flight from Germany, Donika Ajeti was finally walking through the Sacramento International Airport, and only a few minutes away from meeting four strangers. They were there waiting for her with a bouquet that April day: her new family.
A few months later, on Aug. 25, Derek Wong lived through a first day of school like no other. He experienced things he wasn’t used to: he went to a different classroom every period, full of classmates he never met, a teacher he hadn’t seen before and not a friend to chat with during classes. This was his very first day at a school in the U.S.
Wong moved with his family from Hong Kong this summer, while Ajeti is one of many exchange students staying in Davis for the school year.
“Studying in a new country is nothing special, but being in a new school: that’s where the problems are,” Wong said. “The turning point is once you have the courage to meet new people and go talk to them, the day will start to turn better.”
Brazilian exchange student Evaldo Cavalcanti is another foreigner studying at DHS this year. The hardest thing was to “almost leave my past life” to meet new people and make new friends, he said. He had problems with the language, which made it hard for him to follow the classes. “I was afraid to do English mistakes,” he remembers.
Olenka Dworakowski, a Swiss student staying with her aunt’s family for a semester, is also new at the school and finds the classes really easy.
In Switzerland, she attends a Gymnasium, a school that provides secondary education at a similar level to college preparatory high schools at the U.S. “The Gymnasium is definitely harder, [and] here I don’t really care about my grade ‘cause they don’t count,” Dworakowski said. She calls herself a “visitor student.”
Ajeti also studies in a Gymnasium in Germany. “[In a Gymnasium] you can’t choose your subjects. They give you your schedule and you have to pass them,” she said. Although she doesn’t take any Advanced Placement or Honors classes, she said “the stuff we learn [at DHS] it’s easier.”
Chinese schools also differ from American ones according to Wong. “We used to stay in a homeroom and the teachers will come to us. Now we need to go to the teacher’s classroom, which is a total new method of schooling. Also, in Hong Kong we get to stay with the same classmates throughout the entire day, unlike here where else we get new classmates every period,” Wong said.
Schools in Brazil are led in the same way. “[DHS] is very different, it’s so big and has too many people,” Cavalcanti said. He thinks that people were very open with him, and tried to include him in their activities. Because of the language barrier, he felt that it was really helpful for his adaptation. “I’m learning a lot of things that are helping me grow,” he said.
“Overall, people here are welcoming towards new international students and some students here are really willing to open up,” Wong said.