European foreign exchange students settle in at Bowie


Charlotte Koellner

LEAVING HOME: Casper Jensen traveled 5,000 miles from his hometown, Oslo, Norway to attend classes at Bowie for his junior year. Jensen enjoys the freedom of choosing electives but misses some of the roaming freedom in Norway schools. Agata D’Alessio traveled 5,770 miles from her hometown, Rome, Italy to gain exposure to a foreign environment. D’Alessio hopes to pursue a career in international relations, using the foreign exchange plan as a starting point.

Charlotte Koellner, Print Staff

It’s not a secret that American public schools have their pros and cons, but while day-to-day life here in the United States can at times be chaotic, many international students view their temporary residency in the states as a unique opportunity.

Traveling thousands of miles from their hometowns and exiting their comfort zones, foreign exchange students from all over the world are expanding their cultural knowledge and developing personal independence by attending classes at high schools overseas. Numerous foreign exchange students will briefly call Texas their home this school year, including Casper Jensen. Jensen was born and raised in Norway is enrolled at Bowie High School for his junior year.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Jensen said. “You can’t really live with a host family when you’re twenty, so it’s now or never. It’s also just a cool opportunity for you to improve your English, learn about other people and their culture, try new things you’ve never tried, and become more independent.”

Moving from southern Norway to Austin, Texas at the age of sixteen was a life-changing adjustment for Jensen, although the expected language barrier was surprisingly not the most overwhelming change.

“In Norway we have to start learning English in third grade. I speak Norwegian, English, Swedish, German, and Danish,” Jensen said. “But the English used in math and chemistry here is especially harder than what we learned.”

Most foreign exchange students don’t get the choice to choose which country they temporarily reside in, let alone what high school they enroll in. Despite this, Jensen has still enjoyed many experiences during his first semester at Bowie.

“I like Bowie. It’s a good and supportive school and I like my teachers,” Jensen said. “In Norway you can only choose your classes in the last two years of high school, and there’s definitely a larger variety of classes here. My favorite event so far has been the homecoming dance because we don’t have homecoming in Norway so it was fun.”

Jensen is not the only foreign exchange student enrolled in classes at Bowie this year. 16-year old Agata D’Alessio moved here from Rome, Italy, and will be staying until the end of her junior year next June.

“I want to pursue a career in international relations, so I thought being a foreign exchange student was a good way to get started and gain exposure,” D’Alessio said. “This campus is so huge and I got lost multiple times in the first week I was here, but I’ve been okay after that. My favorite part of Bowie has been meeting other foreign exchange students at the beginning of the year during FIT.”

These FIT sessions are organized by a group of Bowie counselors including Clare Smith, April Giuffre, and Brian Wennburg. Sessions occur twice a month specifically for the international students currently on campus.

“Our goal during these sessions is to acclimate foreign exchange students to Bowie. It’s an opportunity for the students to get to know each other and offer stories about their homes, languages, and express their challenges,” Smith said. “Many of these students have not had school counselors before, so we try to introduce that support system to them as well.”

During these 25-minute meetings the counselors work to recognize the challenges foreign exchange students are facing during their transition to a new home and provide them with resources to become more involved in Bowie activities.

“Being so far from your native country can be very scary; everything is new: the food, the culture, the host family, the music, and sometimes even the laws,” Giuffre said. “It can be a very scary transition, so bringing them together is a good way for them to feel less alone.”

The students attending these bimonthly meetings feel the positive encouragement resonated by their foreign exchange peers and are grateful for their latest method of support.  

“The most challenging aspect of Bowie for me has been meeting new people, but the FIT sessions have helped,” D’Alessio said. “It provides us a safe space to hangout with people and spend time with each other.”

In Italy we didn’t get to choose our classes. I feel like I’m at a university because I get to choose which classes I take.

— Agata D’Alessio Junior

Being raised in another country, an international student’s depiction of American high school depends solely on the media they consume. While many American high schools offer different experiences than those represented in movies such as High School Musical, there are still some similarities noticed by exchange students.

“It’s kind of similar to the movies,” Jensen said. “The school spirit around sports is similar, and the groups like the cheerleaders and athletes are the same.”

Fortunately, not all stereotypes representing American high school are true.

“I was very worried I wouldn’t be able to make the right friends,” D’Alessio said. “The picture we have in Italy of an American school is that there’s a ‘popular’ group that everyone knows, but it’s not really like that at Bowie because there are way too many people here to know everyone.”

The crackdown by school security, however, is a phenomenon unfortunately unique to the American high school experience. Although the rules currently in place exist to keep students safe, some exchange students may have a more difficult time adjusting to certain hallway expectations because of their unfamiliarity.

“The rules here are more restrictive overall,” Jensen said. “In Norway there are no hall passes or school IDs, and you can come and go from campus throughout your day. The whole American school system is much more strict and I don’t feel as free.”

Despite the challenges there is no question that being a foreign exchange student benefits an individual’s education. Going to school on the opposite side of the globe can be scary, but the outcome is worth it. 

“I’m not going to regret coming to Bowie. I wanted to experience a new culture and I am very glad I’ve been here,” Jensen said. “But I’m definitely going to appreciate the freedom the Norwegian school system gives me even more when I get back home.”