International mindedness: Foreign exchange students experience American culture

Abby Mendez

Language barriers. Cultural faux paus. Distance from loved ones.

Change is frequently difficult no matter how small, but embracing a new country as a teenager creates a unique set of obstacles. Katharina Pahl and Suse Lalla are both exchange students from Germany who have made the decision to move from their home all the way to Bryan. They made that choice to experience America and its culture while finding that the obstacles are eclipsed by the adventure of something new.

Though visiting a new country and culture is exciting, saying goodbye to friends and family was a struggle for both girls.

“The hardest part was to leave my friends and all the family because I knew I wouldn’t see them for a long time,” Kathi said. “It’s always hard to say goodbye.”

Despite the hardships, the girls are thriving in their new environment and in school.

“I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone,”Suse said. “I have to speak for myself more and step out of my comfort zone to speak a different language in a different country. An exchange is the best thing a student could ever do, because learning new things is amazing.”

Coming from Germany, the girls had a certain idea about what Americans were like from various stereotypes.

“I thought that there was a lot of fast food, and I thought everything was
bigger in Texas,” Suse said. “When my host parents picked me up, I saw those trucks outside the airport, and they were huge.”

They were also aware of more positive stereotypes surrounding Americans.

“I also had a positive stereotype that Americans are much more open-minded,” Kathi said. “Germans are not rude or anything, but they are more reserved and not so outspoken, and I got to experience a lot with the people I met in America.”

Although the language barrier can be one of the most intimidating challenges in a new country, both students found a way to overcome it.

“I started learning English in the third grade and so I was eight or nine and we started to learn really simple stuff,” Suse said. “I wouldn’t say it was hard for me to learn because I was interested in it and I wanted to learn it so I put more effort into it and tried to do my best.”

Since coming to America, both girls have had the chance to make many great memories.

“My favorite memories have been all the weekends with my friends because I found a really good friend group here who has helped me adapt,” Kathi said. “I’ve also done a lot of stuff with my host family like going to Mexico and Colorado. I love traveling, and I like getting to do neat stuff and getting to know things from the American culture I didn’t know before.”

Suse has had a similar experience since coming to America.

“I experienced that I can connect with people on a different level and I found a lot of friends here by spending time in school and in cheer,” Suse said. “Going to football games is a big part for me, and experiencing that is completely different from what it’s like in Germany.”

The girls have both benefited from this trip and have created friendships that will last a lifetime.

“I would definitely recommend an exchange trip,” Kathi said. “Students will improve their language skills and get to experience new cultures, and I feel like it’s always a good thing to meet new people. The people I’ve met here have had a great impact on my life, so I feel like I would be missing out on something if I hadn’t gone on this trip.”