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High School Exchange Students in US Share Their Thoughts

Four teenagers talk about the differences between American schools and those in Austria, Germany, Italy and Turkey. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Twenty-six thousand foreign exchange students are in American high schools this year. A few days ago, we asked four teenagers who arrived in August to discuss their experience so far. All but one are attending public schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, outside Washington.

Johanna is from Germany.

JOHANNA: "The biggest difference for me is the relationship to the teachers. Because here the teachers are more friends, and in Germany they are more like parents and strict and stuff like that."

Another difference? In American high schools, the students are usually the ones who change rooms. Johanna and Daniel come from schools where the teachers change classrooms.

DANIEL: "In Austria, it's more like you have all classes together with the same group of people. And so you are really good friends with like all the people you're in class with, because you know them since like four years and you have all classes together with them."

Hande from Turkey is living with a host family in Denver, Colorado. She says students in Turkish schools have less choice.

HANDE: "You cannot choose your own classes. And you don't have the right to drop out of one of them."

She says Turkish schools are also more formal.

HANDE: "When a teacher comes into the class you have to stand up and greet the teacher. He or she says good morning or good afternoon or something like that and you all, as a class, you answer. We don't do this in class here."

How does the education compare? Hande is in three Advanced Placement classes, which are meant to prepare students for college.

HANDE: "A.P. courses are really hard and they really force you to learn and are really good. But the regular classes, their level is lower than in Turkey."

Rosa is from a country where high school is five years, not four like in America.

ROSA: "In Italy we go to school only during the morning and just like for lessons. And Italian schools [don't] have like other activities. And whatever we want to do, it's outside the school or on our own or like private school or association outside."

On the other hand, she says, having to go elsewhere for activities is not necessarily a bad thing.

ROSA: "We in Italy, or in Europe, I think, we have a more free environment, if I can say this, because we are in touch with a lot of different things that are outside the school. It's like an American school could be a protective box."

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. To learn more about high school exchange programs, go to You can also find us on YouTube and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Bob Doughty.


High School Exchanges in U.S.

The State Department recognizes about 100 sponsoring organizations for its Secondary School Student Exchange Visitor Program. These organizations are responsible for supervising the students and placing them with host families.

Safety activists say parents should be careful in choosing a sponsoring organization. Students should never leave their home country without knowing who their host family will be. Something else to know is how the organization investigates families that want to host exchange students.

Students in the exchange program must be 15 to 18 1/2 years old. They must have no more than 11 years of education (12, if the student went to kindergarten) and a good record in school. They must also speak English well. And they must agree to accept the rules of the exchange program and their host family.