One of my students, Linda, is going to ‘Kalifornie’ in August to spend her junior year studying at a high school in Rancho Cucamonga (it’s a real place!), a city of 170,000. She’s arranged the opportunity through the organization Rotary International. The experience will be 10 months, a full school year, and she will stay with multiple host families to round out her abroad experience.
Linda very graciously agreed to allow me interview her to give insight about what she’s looking forward to about studying in the States.
CHLOHEMIAN: What was your motivation to study abroad in the first place?
LINDA: There are many reasons. One is that I want to improve my English. Throughout elementary school and high school, I really enjoyed the subject and my teachers’ style of teaching. So I would say that the teachers motivated me to study English, and then when I got interested, like really interested, I started to pursue activities to improve my skills. One of the most important events I did was an English Weekend in 2013. I met a lot of Americans there and I realized how bad my English was compared to other people! So it really motivated me to work hard.
I want to get to know about myself more, to find out what I want to do in life, and also without my comfort zone. I’ve been living in Czech Republic for 17 years and I just want to go out and do whatever life brings, try everything, and see a different way of life.
CHL: What do you think you will miss most about not being in Czech Republic?
CHL: Okay! So in that case, what are you looking forward to most about living abroad?
L: That’s a really hard question because I don’t want to have any expectations about what it will be like. I’m looking forward to everything because I don’t know what I’m going to be going through. I don’t want to think about it, I just want to go there and see how it goes.
CHL: So, jumping into the abyss. Do you have any goals for things you want to do or see while there?
L: We see a lot of films about American schools. I want to find out if it’s true, all the stereotypes and football games and cheerleaders. And I think I want to explore America in general. For example, I’ll be living an hour from Los Angeles. I want to try surfing because I’ve never done such a thing. Sports, because I don’t really have many opportunities here in Tišnov. And do everything that will be new with friends or my host family!
CHL: So you mentioned stereotypes, and I wanted to know if you can say your expectations about the difference between American and Czech school systems – for example the atmosphere and educational philosophy.
L: The most amazing thing will be being able to choose the subjects. Still, I’m in the second year, sophomore year I guess?, and I still have to study the 13 fixed subjects in my schedule. That’s annoying because I’m not that interested in Physics and I don’t have a knack for it (Chlohemian note: check out the vocabulary on this girl!). I’d like to be able to choose what to study, for example Biology or Anatomy. I’m looking forward to the variety. Also, the extracurricular activities are so stunning and diverse. You can join waterpolo or science clubs. I think the teachers in general will be more open-minded, friendly and maybe helpful.
I also think that American high school is focused on individual work. There’s a lot of essays to write in which you have to express your opinions. We don’t have that here. I feel that students in Czech schools don’t engage in class that much. They’re not involved. Some are, but some are just sitting in class taking notes.
CHL: I saw you the other day running, didn’t I, and you said you were training to…
L: Yeah, sports will be the number one thing for me. I want to join cross country and maybe even volleyball.
CHL: How do you think you will fit in with Americans?
L: I already know so many Americans here, and I love it, because when I’m talking to Americans I feel they’re completely open-minded, friendly and helpful. I don’t know how to describe it, but I think you all really value your freedom and it’s very important for you to be equal with everyone. (Chlohemian note: Americans like to project that image, but the reality is different, and often horrifying.) You’re just crazy and always laughing, but it depends on the person so I can’t say everyone is like that.
CHL: Those are surely the stereotypes. What about negative qualities, or negative things you’ve heard about life in the US?
L: Well, that there’s certain things I shouldn’t talk about, like politics or religion.
(Linda continued) There’s a big difference between politics in Czech and in America, because Czech people don’t really care about politics that much, or when they talk about it, they’re not that concerned and wouldn’t get into conflicts with each other.
(At this point, a colleague chimes in to disagree with this, saying that she knows some politically-concerned Czechs, but also that Czechs are generally skeptical and aren’t nervous to say something is crap.)
(Linda continued) I just think Americans are more into politics and their views could be more confrontational.
CHL: So what’s the game plan when someone comes to you and asks, ‘So what do you think about our president?’ How will you get out of it?
L: I think I will ask them their opinion instead and just listen. I don’t think I would be afraid to say my opinion, but I have to spend some time there first before I can know what to say.
CHL: Anything you want people who are considering studying abroad to know?
L: Just do it! I haven’t started my exchange yet, but I know it will be life-changing. There are many options, you just need to do some research.
CHL: Last question – What American food are you looking forward to trying?
L: I’m so excited about trying the variety of different cuisines – I’ve never tried Mexican or Japanese food before! On the other hand I’m not interested in trying out all the junk food that’s in the US (except homemade cakes and candies like peanut butter cups). Becoming chubby will be an easy thing I guess. My parents won’t recognize me after a year full of eating late night pizzas. 🙂
Thanks Linda! We all wish you the best of luck and amazing experiences!