From managing GPAs, navigating the unfamiliar world of AP and honors classes, meeting new friends and teachers, and finding a place on the social totem pole, high school life can be a challenge to any student.
For juniors Josefin Karlsson and Marianna Norgard, it’s even more of an adventure; they have crossed oceans to study here instead of their home countries of Sweden and Denmark respectively. They are two of many foreign students at SHS who have come via the AFS (American Field Service) Intercultural Program and Rotary Program to broaden their education.
The goal of the AFS Intercultural Program is to provide “intercultural learning opportunities” that help create a more peaceful, understanding world. Students travel away from their families to spend the school year with a host family.
“[These programs] enlighten everyone in the community about the cultural background of others,” says school administration manager Shelly Prom. “It’s neat to see what other cultures believe in and celebrate, and it adds diversity to our school.”
Being selected to study abroad is an honor. Both Karlsson and Norgard had to submit an application and an interview before being chosen to come. “My parents were really happy for me,” remembers Karlsson.
For students like Karlsson and Norgard, there are many benefits to studying abroad, from gaining worldwide experiences to learning how to survive almost independently in a new place.
“One of the benefits is that you learn about yourself while alone,” says Norgard. “You become more independent and gain different perspectives.”
Both girls agree that another major benefit to coming here is the chance to improve their English language skills.
“I get to learn a new language, meet new people,” says Karlsson. “It’s a memory for life.”
However, living far away from home in an unfamiliar environment can be a challenge as well. Students coming via the AFS program do not receive credit for their studies and have to repeat the year when they go back home. Furthermore, they do not return to their families for a whole year, including during the holidays.
“At first I was really missing my family,” says Norgard. “In the beginning I would Skype them, and I would get really homesick.”
For Karlsson, one of the hardest parts is seeing her friends having fun back in Stockholm. But both girls are glad to be a part of their new host family and circle of friends, including a group of about fifteen other foreign students attending various high schools in the areas.
“At first I was tiptoeing around my [host family’s] house, afraid to touch anything,” laughs Norgard. “But they’ve really welcomed me with open arms, and I feel like it’s my home now too!”
Students at Seminole High School can choose to host students from other countries in their family, or to study a year abroad themselves. Either way, it is an eye-opening opportunity for students to explore cultures other than their own, no matter their nationality.
“I’m getting to experience something so cool,” says Karlsson, “that it makes it all worth it.”