Struggles Abroad: The Journey of Foreign Exchange Students


Isabella Pedraza

Paola Carraro and Aurora Rigamontii enjoy lunch together. Rigamontii and Carraro are from Italy.


  In the latter days of summer break, the majority of American high school students around the world were buying school supplies and squeezing out their last bit of summer like they’ve done every year. On the other side of the world, a smaller group of students were traveling away from their families to embark on a scary,  but otherwise exciting and culturally educating journey to America through the YouAbroad foreign exchange program. 

 Approximately 3,000 international exchange students have been hosted in Texas alone through the YouABroad program over the past 10 years. This 2019-2020 school year Klein High is accompanied by 5 foreign exchange students, each from different places around the world vastly different from Spring, Texas. These differences in home life are a reason foregin exchange participants must be willing to sacrifice a great deal before setting off into their culturally enlightening expedition. 


 “I want to go outside my comfort zone and see what is outside Italy, how the world is outside my small village in Cremella,” Italian foreign exchange student Aurora Rigamontii said. “Since I was in the first grade of high school I wanted [to do] this program.”


The YouAbroad program for the United States offers these foreign exchange students an opportunity to become fluent in the English language, as it’s becoming a priority for many schools in Europe and further east. The states also adorn their journey with diverse foods, ethnically diverse people, and cultural differences here and there. 


 “They [house family] took me to try some foods and some hamburgers, oh and the apple pie!” Rigamontii said,“The apple pie here is amazing. I don’t have it in Italy.”


Both Italian foreign exchange students were appalled at the huge size of the American airport and feared for the loss of their luggage or even themselves in such a maze. But the Texas heat was something Slovakian exchange student Jakob Chreno first noticed. 


“I was melting because it was so hot outside. It was the hottest day I have ever experienced.” Chreno said about his first day here. 


As inspiring as it may be to travel into a new and unexplored country, the process has its risks and downsides. Saying goodbye to family and friends for a whole year or even just a semester can take a toll on some foreign exchange students. 


“She [my mom] did not want me to miss this experience, but she misses me a lot,” Italian foreign exchange student Paola Carraro said, “I wish that I could go to Italy for Christmas.”


These departures from family and friends can be difficult enough to rethink the entire decision.


“Actually, I had doubts when I was saying goodbye to my best friends. I thought that it would have been difficult to make friends here,” Rigamontii said, “At one point, I thought that maybe I had done the wrong choice. Maybe I should’ve stayed at home. I was worried especially about school.”


But not all foreign exchange students struggle the same with the decision.


“I think it’s good that we spend holidays here to really learn the culture,” said Chreno “I wanted to do it, no one forced me to do it so I was excited.”


Living with a host family that is unfamiliar can also be a challenge.


“It’s difficult with another family because they’re not always what you want,” Carraro said, “I expected my family to be different…You have to adapt.”


In addition to the foreign home life, American high school is a whole new challenge simultaneously serving as a tough culture shock and the new educational experience they signed up for. 


“In Italy we are all friends in the class and speak a lot with everyone, here it is more lonely and [you] don’t have friends in your class,” Carraro said. “Most teachers are really nice… It is hard because [in classes such as government] I don’t understand anything.”


Despite these difficulties, many do see it as a challenge they can triumph and are content with most aspects of the YouAbroad program. 


“I do like to challenge myself. Sometimes I fail but I like to try new things.” Rigamontii said.


With every path comes it’s obstacles, but that won’t keep these foreign exchange students from making it to the end. The YouAbroad program offers thorough educational opportunities and a once in a lifetime experience as well as a platform to learn a new language.


“It is a good program and I would recommend it to anyone,” Chreno said.