- Written by Gillian Smith
- Published: 28 May 2014
As the school year wraps up, Duxbury bids a fond farewell to three students who are admittedly not looking forward to leaving town.
Duxbury High School hosted three international exchange students this year through AFS, an intercultural program that arranges international high school exchanges in several countries. The students are hosted by Duxbury families who give their time, homes and energy, free of charge, to help these students experience the American culture and education system.
This year, Adelaide Desplaces, from France, lived with Karen and Ling Wong, Weibke Rothhardt, from Germany, lived with Cathy and Tom Rogerson, and Ben Strasser, from Austria, lived with Beth and Brendan Halligan. Looking back on their year in Duxbury, all three said they were happy they had decided to participate in the program.
For Strasser, traveling abroad is a sort of family tradition, so when the time came for him to look into programs, he had no trouble jumping on board.
“I thought it would be a good experience, a good way to improve my English,” Strasser said. “I had to go through an application process and a couple of days of preparation, but otherwise it was relatively easy to do the exchange program.
Desplaces said she also thought the exchange program would help her improve her English language skills. In addition to the education aspect, she said she thought living away from her family and learning more about the American culture would be a good experience.
Traveling runs in the family for Rothhardt, whose brother previously did the program.
“One day, I told my mom that I wanted to do an ex- change here and she just said, ‘Alright,’ and that was it,” Rothhardt said.
Looking back on her year in Duxbury, Desplaces said she was happy that she got to meet a lot of people and make many new friends.
“I was kind of worried because I didn’t think I would be able to make friends easily,” she said. “But I did. Everyone was really nice so it was actually easy to fit in.”
Because all three students take courses in English at their respective schools, they found it surprisingly easy to communicate when they arrived in America. Rothhardt said her English was sufficient when she arrived, but changed a bit throughout the year as she learned slang terms that were not taught in her high school. One of the things all three of the students noticed was the stark differences between ac- cents, especially between New England and southern accents.
“I had no problem at all,” Strasser said. “I think my English stayed the same throughout the year. I did go to Disney World and the southern accent was very surprising. It was hard to understand.”
As far as their education was concerned, they said their high school courses were “totally easy.” Rothhardt, who was in her junior year at DHS, said the content that was taught in her math classes was the same as she had learned in eighth or ninth grade in Germany.
“Especially with the sciences, it was stuff we had learned in middle school,” Strasser said.
The students had a bit of an adjustment when it came to changing classes and class- rooms during the day. In Eu- rope, students stay with the same class for each year and the teachers move between classrooms. Strasser has a classmate who has been in the same class with him from elementary school all the way through high school.
“In Germany, I had the same 30 people from fifth to ninth grade,” Rothhardt said. “One of my best friends I know from first grade because she was in every single subject with me.”
Living with a host family was both exciting and challenging for all three students, as they had to learn how to live with an American family, understand the rules and the culture and get to know the family members.
“Sometimes I really loved my host family and other times I really missed my family,” Rothhardt said.
As Desplaces, Rothhardt and Strasser prepare to leave, DHS junior Lindsay Conway will embark on her own international journey at the end of the summer, when she will spend her senior year in Indonesia for 11 months through the Youth Exchange Study program, which aims to improve cultural understand- ing between US students and students from predominantly Muslim populations.
“It’s all become so real,” Conway said. “I just had my first orientation and I started doing research and getting shots, so I’m getting excited.”
While she is abroad, she will go to school for two semesters and will also enjoy a summer break, during which she plans on exploring and learning more about the country. As she prepares to travel, she has also started packing. Because the country is over 80 percent Muslim, she must wear long pants and sleeves at all times, except during school hours, when she will wear a school uniform.
When asked what advice they would give Conway be- fore she goes abroad, all three students told her to “just say yes” to experiences and op- portunities.
“There were times when my host family wanted to go do something and I just want- ed to be in bed, but I went anyways,” Rothhardt said. “I’m so glad I did because I always had fun and had a lot of good experiences.”
While the three AFS student miss their families, they all agree that they are not ready to go home quite yet and will miss the people they met and the friends they made in Duxbury.
“I wish I could stay for the summer,” Desplaces said. “I’m not ready to go home yet.”