Intercultural Program students return home

Foreign exchange students share their experience at local schools

Students from around the world boarded buses to return to their home countries on June 26.

Thirty foreign exchange students from Italy, Finland, Germany, Japan and more boarded buses to return to their home countries after spending a year attending high school in the United States. (Sun Focus staff photo by sarah burghardt)

These foreign exchange students attended local schools through the AFS Intercultural Program to learn more about American culture and have a first-hand experience as a high schooler in the United States.

AFS-USA is a national program that aims to work toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international and intercultural learning experiences to students, families and communities through global volunteer partnerships. This year, 30 students participated in the program and attended classes at Blaine, Spring Lake Park, Fridley, Totino-Grace and Centennial High Schools. Host families housed the students who came from Italy, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Thailand and more.

Saying goodbye to their host families proved to be one of the hardest parts of the entire experience, many students agreed.

Adam Faber of Denmark said he will miss his host family, especially his new found brothers. Faber’s host family also housed a student from Germany, who helped him to learn the German language, which would be the fourth on the list of Danish, English and Norwegian. Faber attended Blaine High School and said he had a great experience and was able to make many friends by starting off the year playing soccer in the fall.

His favorite aspect about America is that people are very open-minded and friendly.

“Here, if you meet someone, they are like ‘hi, how are you’ and you almost become friends as soon as you meet them. But back home, if you don’t know a person, if you smile at them then they won’t smile back,” he shared. He said this openness helped him to break out of his comfort zone.

“When I first came, I was very shy and I was kind of afraid to approach someone and talk to them,” Faber said.

He said he hopes that he can come back to Minnesota next summer to visit his host family and friends.

Chiara Fialdini of Italy attended Forest Lake High School and said the experience taught her how to be independent. Fialdini said she has never been on her own before without her parents, so it took awhile to adjust.

“I learned how to stay alone and think about myself and take care of myself,” Fialdini said. She added that she learned a lot about the cultural differences between America and Italy.

“One big thing was holding the door for people. That was weird for me because in Italy, we don’t do that,” she said. “Other things I liked about Minnesota was the “Minnesota Nice,” people are very polite,” Fialdini said.

Michela Barioglio of Italy and Henniina Aaltonen of Finland said that before this experience, they had only seen American high schools in movies.

“It’s been a lot of fun to actually see how the school work sand see how a normal life is here,” Barioglio said.

They also agreed that teachers in America are more caring and nice when compared to European teachers.

“They definitely care about how you do a lot more,” Aaltonen said.

Yusuke Fukushima of Japan attended Roseville High School. He said the experience taught him to apprecaite diversity and other cultures.

“Here, there are so many races, while in Japan, we only have Japanese, people just like me,” Fukushima said. “There are so many ethnicities and there are so many varieties, so I think I learned a new perspective.”

He added that some of his favorite aspects about America is the unlimited refills of soda, as well as the impressive amount of tennis courts at his high school

“At home in Tokyo, I only had two tennis courts to play on. We had eight courts here!” Fukushima shared.