Around the World in 180 Days: How Life Back Home Has Changed for Exchange Students

Waking up, going to school, doing homework, and spending time with friends is a routine high school students know best. But imagine doing it all in an entirely new country. Exchange programs, such as the ones Da Vinci hosts, allow international students to leave home in search of a new experience in a new place, where they will live for a year with a volunteer family. After the year has ended, the students return back home and reintegrate into their lives back home. It’s not hard to imagine what kind of growth a year abroad can have on these students. In fact, three students from the 2017-2018 school year reminisce on their time in Davis to explain how the experience has impacted them, and how their time in America has shaped who they are.

Bruna Menezes, a student from Brazil who spent her junior year at Da Vinci, explains how life has changed since her year in America. “I do have a different perspective on stuff,” she writes. “I think I’m just paying more attention to most things and [taking in] more details to myself of what is happening each moment, and I started to do it when I was in the US, so I’m always going to remember each second [and] the way it was.” She also mentions a newfound sense of independence that came from being on her own. “Now that I’m back, I realize that I’m more responsible and independent than I was before.”

Menezes with host sister, Sarena Solodoff (second from right) (credit Bruna Menezes)

Menezes is not the only student who discovered independence. Alex Nitzke, a student from Germany who also spent his junior year at Da Vinci, remarks on the same idea. “I feel like I have mentally aged a lot in my year abroad.” Nitzke was excited to be re-accepted by his German friends like he had never been gone, but he also wouldn’t trade his experience for anything. “I would instantly do [an exchange year] again, and I would recommend it to everyone that has the chance of doing it.”

Not every exchange student experiences a change once returning home. Amélie Laloire spent her senior year in Davis, but upon returning home to Belgium remarks not really noticing a difference. “For me, [home] is the same, but I have [more] perspectives.” Although one thing can be universally agreed on: “It made me stronger,” Laloire writes.

An exchange year is a big adjustment, not only for the students themselves but for the families who host them as well. These families volunteer to take in an international student, house them, feed them, and give them the resources they need in order to thrive for the year. The students and families create bonds unlike any other, and especially affect host siblings who get the opportunity to experience life with a new brother or sister.

Aaron Eckey, a sophomore at Da Vinci, hosted Nitzke last year. Eckey has no brothers, but considers Nitzke to be the older brother he never had. “I got to experience what it was like having an older brother and watch [his] confidence change from the first week to the last.” Eckey also remarks on how hosting an exchange student has changed his own perspective. “I was not so confident before,” he writes, “but seeing someone come from another country alone to a family they do not know takes a lot of courage, and it made me feel stronger talking to them and [getting] their advice.” Although Eckey’s experience was incredibly valuable, he wouldn’t be interested in hosting again. “I had so much fun with my exchange student before [that] I would feel guilty and like I was cheating [by hosting another student].”

Da Vinci students Milo Goldstein and Blayne Clegg-Swan holding the American flag over the 2017-2018 exchange students. From left to right: Qais Badran, Hanna Sienknecht, Amelie Laloire, Bruna Menezes, and Alex Nitzke. (credit Bruna Menezes)

On the opposite side of town, Da Vinci alumna Sarena Solodoff, now a freshman at Reed College in Oregon, explains her experience hosting Menezes. Similar to Eckey, Solodoff has no sisters, and describes her experience with Menezes as a sisterhood. “My first experience having a sister,” she writes. “There were no expectations so everything just happened as it happened and we were always going with the flow. Getting to live with a new person and experience life with them so intimately was a beautiful thing.” However, unlike Eckey, Solodoff would indeed be interested in hosting again.

Aside from their experiences, the students also reminisced on what they missed about Davis and Da Vinci. Nitzke enjoyed the low-key and accepting environment of Da Vinci. Menezes loved her experience with the people, as did Laloire, who also notes missing the sunny weather of California. Asides from school, students miss spending time with their friends and visiting places that only Davis or America can offer. “Besides the people,” Menezes writes, “I really miss going to Central Park, Panera Bread, The Death Star, and the Farmer’s Market.” Nitzke channeled his true Californian soul, writing that he misses In-n-Out.

Exchange students get the opportunity to attend Prom regardless of grade level and often take American dates. (Left to right: Haadi Shaw, Hanna Sienknecht, Bruna Menezes, Emmanuel Navarrete, Amelie Laloire, Mckella Van Boxtel, Alex Nitzke, Natalie Vinh, Qais Badran) (credit Bruna Menezes)

Overall, it is evident that the students’ year in Davis has had a lasting impact on their lives. In fact, even a year speaking English has changed the way they might think. In a question added to the interviews to end on a light note, students were asked what language they think in. “Now that I’m back in Brazil,” Menezes explains, “I usually think in Portuguese, but sometimes I still catch myself thinking in English.” Nitzke explains how he thinks in both German and English. “It’s really weird,” he says. But regardless of what language flows through their brains, there is no forgetting their year in America. “It is the best year I had so far,” Menezes writes, “I really miss it.”


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