Switzerland in Alabama – A high school experience
My first impression of the US was that everything I had seen in the movies and the TV shows was more or less true. My host family were very open and very friendly. It was not hard at all to get included in everything. The first week I was already going to family meetings and meeting the friends of my host family. They just included me right away. In Germany, where I am from and in other Scandinavian countries, I feel that there would have been a distance, but that was not the case with my host family.
A warm welcome
In the US, I attended Rehobeth high school in Dothan Alabama. The teachers were super nice, the students were a bit reserved in the beginning because they didn’t know me but quickly changed. I was the new kid, so they were curious, they came to me and asked me questions about my life and where i’m from. So from the first week in school, I didn’t feel alone. However, I definitely noticed the different cliques and groups that you see in movies like the popular clique, the skater clique and so on. But, since I was an exchange student, I was neutral, kinda like Switzerland in Europe. Didn’t really belong to any cliques yet.
School system in America
I was in the 11th grade at the time, but I had already treated some of the subjects that I had to learn in the US at my previous school. I didn’t find the classes in the US to be difficult, and this gave me the time to enjoy everything that the US had to offer. What I really liked about that school in Dothan were the choices that I could make. Of course, there were certain mandatory classes like math, science and so on. However, I could also choose certain subjects that I wanted to follow. There were options like fashion design or cooking class. Sports was also a big part of school. The sixth and seventh hours were always reserved for sports practice. So usually we would have about 5 classes and two hours of sports a day.
Making your choices count
I remember that at the time, I chose a higher anatomy class as one of my optional classes. I remember the first day of that class, the teacher asked us what we wanted to do in the future. Almost all the students in the class knew what they wanted, like to become a doctor, nurse and so on. The teacher then asked the same question to the small percentage who did not give a reason for choosing the class, myself included. We still couldn’t properly answer and I still remember what he said to us; “it’s okay that you are here, of course, but this is a difficult course. You will have to learn a lot by heart, so if you are not really interested or do not see yourself using the knowledge in the future then why would you take this class.”
Pros and cons of school systems
I think that statement really got me thinking. At my previous school in Germany, I had been following all these classes, however now when I think back on it, I can’t remember most of the things that I had learned. I am simply not using that knowledge. So I really like that system of choice in America. Obviously, having the basic subjects is important, but having the choice of more specialised subjects is great.
Although I also have to admit that the American system was a little strange to me in the sense that some subjects were really easy. For example, I followed a Spanish class but never had to speak Spanish. Moreover, the teacher thought everything in English. We had to write down a few things and read from it, but it wasn’t like in Germany where you really are asked to practice in each class. On one hand, the US had difficult specialised subjects, but on the other hand, they also had very easy subjects like Spanish that you didn’t really learn anything from.
Joining a Clique
The longer I lived in the US, the more I associated with a certain clique in school. In my case it was the popular clique, since all exchange students were kinda integrated into the group. However, I also associated with other cliques as well. I personally did not see conflicts or bullying between the cliques however, I noticed that for example the popular clique didn’t really interact with the skater/artsy clique. And I think in this case it was an okay thing, because I feel that in America, it is one extreme or the other. So either they bully you and cause conflict or they kinda let you be and ignore you. So I am of the opinion that ignoring is the lesser of two evils. Besides, everyone had their own friends so that was okay.
Another thing about the US is that in most states you need access to a car. Since the exchange students had all been young and didn’t have a driving license, joining the popular clique had an added benefit. My friend’s brother who was in the popular clique had a car, so, if we needed to get to a party or to the mall he would drive us. Under 21, it was usual to go to clubs or pubs there. We usually went to house parties for fun. In high school there were basically a few things we could do; hanging out at the mall, hanging out at a friend’s house, going to the movies or going to house parties.
Hanging at the mall was really a big thing in America. You didn’t go to the mall to shop per se. We just hang around the mall to socialise with other classmates and perhaps even catch a glimpse of our crush. I think living in the USA for a year was one of the best experiences I have had in my life, also because I experienced a lot of firsts there; my first alcoholic drink, my first boyfriend and so on…
Read more about dating a guy from the skater clique and gang conflicts in the second part of this blog post next week!