Editor's note: Kalina is a former AYP student from Poland who lived with a host family in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last year. She wanted to offer some advice to students based on her experiences during her exchange year. This is the first in a series of three posts Kalina wrote for us.
By Kalina from Poland
Exactly one year ago from today my life changed forever, and it's all thanks to my exchange in America! You are probably wondering what it is going to be like, and if what others said is going to turn out to be true. Well, there is no ONE answer, as everyone's year abroad is going to be different depending on your placement: what state, what school, and most importantly, with what kind of family. Even though you are all going to come across different opportunities, some things stay the same for everyone. Therefore, here is Part One of my guide on how to set your priorities straight and make your year count the most!
I bet that after watching some classic American teenage movies, like 10 Things I Hate About You, Grease, or Mean Girls, you already have a vision of what your year is going to be like. While some aspects of these movies are true, some won't necessarily meet your expectations.
While studying at Waukesha West High, I noticed that the well-known 'canteen map' shown in Mean Girls is sort of real! The cheerleaders, POM girls, football guys, artsy kids, etc., mostly stick together within their groups. That doesn't mean they don't speak to people from different circles; it is not at all like that. American kids are generally friendly, and since you’re an exchange student, they will want you to feel welcomed. Part of their culture is to show care and interest, even to newly met people. Now do not get me wrong: not everyone will want to be your best friend, even if they act like you have known each other for ages (especially when girls say 'aw love ya girl', you should take it with a grain of salt).
Sports & Clubs
American high schools are obviously known for the importance of extracurricular activities, which I believe is so great! As a foreign exchange student, you should choose something to have a full experience, plus it’s how you meet your future friends! There is a whole variety of the things you can do, whether you want to develop academically, artistically, socially, or you want to focus on athletics. The best part is that you do not have to choose only one thing! That's right: there are different seasons in which certain sports, clubs, and activites are available. Of course you need to try out first, but there are usually varsity and junior varsity teams, so you still can give it a shot even if you're a complete beginner. Trust me, there is such a variety of options, you could do: swimming, football, track and field, soccer, basketball, tennis, dance, wrestling, drama, choir, language clubs, volunteering clubs, and the list goes on! There is plenty to choose from, so you will absolutely find something you’re interested in. Do not be afraid to try new things. Look at this year as anopportunity to challenge yourself in many aspects of life!
What I particularly liked about studying in America is the number of interesting classes you can take. While you are required to take certain classes like English, U.S. History, and math, there is still room for many fun classes, such as drama, choir, chef foods, arts, photography, fitness/gym classes, and many more. You can also take AP classes, which are Advanced Placement courses ending with an official exam. The choice to take AP classes is totally up to you, and depends on if you really want to focus on school work or spend more time enjoying your year in the States. Because trust me: AP courses equal lots of homework and studying! Personally, I would advise you to balance your life in a way that you stay busy doing different things. I would not take too many AP classes, because that would drive you crazy. Maybe take one or two, and give those more fun classes a shot as well! At the end of the day, you should choose whatever makes you happy!