Over the course of the school year, foreign exchange students from all over the world have come to Utah, living the normal high school life of an American teenager and becoming a new member of an American family.
Three of these exchange students, who agreed to speak with TX. about their experiences, are Antonella Bernardi, 18, from Ecuador; Silvia Pesaresi, 17, from Italy; and Vanessa Retr, 18, from Germany. All are seniors who have been attending Syracuse High School during the past year.
Exchange students might have different reasons for coming to America, but all of these visitors said they have really enjoyed it.
"I always wanted to experience the American way, become fluent in English, and I was very excited for high school life," says Retr, who lives in the German town of Inglostadt.
Bernardi says she just wanted to travel and live in other places, learn another language, and live in another culture.
When they first came to Utah the students said they were very excited, but there were a few hard things that they had to get over.
"Getting used to the new people, and the food was something I had to get used to," says Bernardi, of Quito, Ecuador.
Pesaresi says it was a challenge "getting used to the language and getting to know all the new people you've never met. The first month was tough."
Once they got settled in, the foreign exchange students were ready to have fun, work hard in school, participate in extracurricular activities and spend time with their American families.
For Pesaresi, being an exchange student has not only been fun, but has given her insight on life lessons.
The resident of Ancona, Italy, says she has learned "to understand how life should be lived, because you must take as many opportunities as possible, smile as much as you can, meet as many people as you can, because everything is a lesson and everyone has a lesson to share with you."
What's the best part of American high schools to a foreign exchange student?
"Where do I begin?" Retr says. "The school spirit, everyone is super nice, I love the teachers, and for the first time in my life I really like coming to school. You have so many different opportunities; for example, you can get scholarships in all different kinds of things."
Pesaresi enjoys the way American high schools are set up, too.
"Everything is so organized, you can become whoever you want," she says. "If you want to become a dancer you have the dance class; if you want to sing they have the choir. Also, the spirit of the school."
A second family
Exchange students often enjoyed the atmosphere and friendliness of the school.
"Everything is so relaxed and fun, a nice place to be. People and teachers here are really nice," says Bernardi.
Coming to America meant lots of different foods. Retr loves frozen yogurt and pretzel bites, Pesaresi loves brownies and chocolate chips, Bernardi loves biscuits and gravy along with desserts like cupcakes and cheesecake.
But many other foods don't taste good if you didn't grow up eating them. Although Pesaresi is from Italy, she doesn't like Little Caesars and most other American pizza because authentic Italian pizza is not at all like the kind we have here.
Retr says she didn't enjoy hash browns and tater tots, while Bernardi didn't enjoy eating fast food too often.
Being a foreign exchange student has been filled with countless memories, the students say. Although it was very hard for them to choose, many of their greatest memories tied into one common thing.
All the moments she spent with her American family are her favorites, Retr says, "because my new family became like my second family to me. My host Grandma became my best friend here, and I don't know what I'd do without her. "
Bernardi happily remembers "the first time I heard everyone in my host family call me 'daughter' or 'sister' in front of someone else."
Pesaresi has a favorite memory of her own: "Christmas with my family, because even though I knew them for three months, I felt like a part of the family and knew I was loved there."
Being in an American high school from a foreign country, other students may say some pretty strange things or ask you some very bizarre questions.
Bernardi was surprised when after saying she was from Ecuador, someone said to her, "Oh, you dress normal, I thought you would be wearing a sombrero."
Retr says she was once asked, "Do you have bathrooms in Germany?" Or Pesaresi was once asked, "Do you speak Latin?"
Each student also commented that they have often been asked if they speak the language of the country they are from.
Unfortunately, time is running out for our new foreign friends as the school year comes to an end and they must get ready to return home.
"I wish I could stay here to spend time with the people I met and doing the things I like to do," Bernardi says.
Pesaresi says, "I'm already satisfied because I've done everything I want to do. I want to spend the time with the people I've met and love."
"I've prepared myself months ago," says Retr. "But at the same time I've been pretending like it would never happen, like I would never leave. I try not to worry about it, and I try to squeeze a week into a day. I try to so something with my friends and family every day. It is so exhausting at the moment, but I know that I would regret not using every single second of my exchange year."
Nathan Beeston is a junior at Syracuse High School. He loves swim team, writing and life guarding at Cherry Hill, and he is always up for making new friends. Contact him at email@example.com.