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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS & VIEWS : Exchange Gifts : Foreign Students Who Study Here Learn About the U.S. and Share Information About Their Native Lands

March 24, 1994|KIRAN JAIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Kiran Jain is is a senior at El Dorado High School in Placentia.

When foreign exchange students come to this country, they have to leave friends behind, learn a different culture and language, adapt to a new environment and go to a school where they have to make new friends--not to mention live with people they hardly know. It can be an intimidating decision.

Why, then, do so many students from other countries visit the United States annually through exchange programs?

Some, such as Magda Sehnalova from the Czech Republic, want to learn firsthand about a place she has heard so much about. Others, such as Frank Kaiser from Germany, hope to perfect their English.

Have you ever wondered what life as a teen-ager would be like in a different country?

In countries all over the world, students start learning a foreign language--often English--long before reaching high school. Imagine school six days a week with up to 13 classes a semester. While this may be unheard of in the United States, it is common practice in other areas of the world.

In separate interviews, four exchange students spending a year in Orange County shared some of their opinions on the differences between being a teen-ager here and in their native countries.


Country: Sweden Age: 17 High School: Fountain Valley

Q: What was your impression of America before you came here?

A: In Sweden, we get all the American TV shows like "Roseanne," "Melrose Place," "The Cosby Show" and "Arsenio Hall," so a lot of our ideas about America come from these shows. Before I came here, I thought Americans were all fat people who ate burgers and drank Cokes.

Q: What were the first things you noticed when you came to California?

A: It was a real big culture shock. Everything here is so big, like the parking lots and freeway lanes. All the stuff is really cheap, too. In Sweden, a Big Mac costs $4! The best part about America is seeing people from all different cultures living together. That is very impressive.

Q: What was something that you were surprised to see in America?

A: I was really surprised to see how nudity is censored here, but not violence. In Sweden, we censor the violence and allow nudity on television, magazines, newspapers, etc. We have less crime.

Q: How are American teen-agers different than in Sweden?

A: Teen-agers are so open with each other. They are very nice and easy to talk to. Swedes are very quiet, shy and reserved, but they are also more open-minded.

Q: How is dating in America different than in Sweden?

A: In America, dating is very complicated. In Sweden, if you kiss somebody, that means you are going out with that person. Instead of going out on dates, we go out in big groups to dance clubs and parties.

Q: How are relationships with parents?

A: Swedish parents are very open-minded. If you have a boyfriend, you are allowed to spend time with him, alone, in your bedroom. Parents realize when you are mature and independent. When they see you can take care of yourself, they let you make more decisions. Things like teen-age pregnancies are not very common in Sweden, as compared to America, because teen-agers are able to talk to their parents about contraceptives and things like that. We are very well-informed and open with our parents.


Country: Czech Republic High School: Aliso Niguel

Q: Why did you want to study in America?

A: I decided to visit the U.S. to learn English and to learn about the culture. In Europe, we talk about America all the time, but nobody knows who the American people really are. I wanted to find out. Everybody in my country thinks it is great because of all the American movies they watch. They love the movie stars, but that's all they see about America.

Q: How are teen-agers in the Czech Republic different from the ones here?

A: In my country, the teen-agers are not as friendly. They are not very open to making new friends. In my school you are with the same 30 students for six hours a day, five days a week, and all four years throughout high school. We do not change classes like we do here. This is why it is hard to meet other people. We do not have sport teams or clubs at school.

Q: What kind of government is the Czech Republic?

A: We are a democracy just like America, but we have only been like this since 1989. Five years ago, our country had a revolution. We switched from communism to a democracy.

We have had many changes in the past few years. For example, in school we used to learn about communism and the Russian language. We never learned about other countries or things that did not relate to Russia.

After the revolution, we were allowed to learn English. I have been taking the language for three years. Before the revolution, families were not allowed to believe in religion, because it went against community principles. Today, my parents are Christians.

My dad also owns a firm, which was not possible before 1989, because the government owned everything. Now, (the government) just own things like the railroads.


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