T.C., exchange students find common ground

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Imagine leaving your family, friends and everything familiar behind for an entire year to attend a new high school where you do not speak the language. 

That is exactly what juniors Sarah Linbrecht and Tamara Gervais and sophomore Lola Daroca Guerrero are doing.  They are foreign exchange students who are attending T.C. Williams High School this year.

This group of exchange students is diverse. Sarah is from Hamburg, Germany, Tamara lives in Paris, France, and Lola is from Sevilla, Spain.

Tamara and Sarah both learned about the exchange opportunity through their home schools, which gave them information about the American Field Service Intercultural Program. AFS is a global organization that lets kids from around the world live with a host family and study as full-time students in another country.

Lola is here with the Center for Cultural Exchange, an exchange program in which both of her older brothers have participated. CCI is based in Chicago and gives high-schoolers the opportunity to live and study in nearly 30 different countries.

Sarah and Tamara have been in the United States for six weeks, while Lola has been here for three. It was hard at first to be so far from home, Lola said, but I call and e-mail my family once a week. 

Some of Sarahs friends from Germany are also living in the area and attending schools through the AFS program. In all, there are about 50 students with AFS living in the area, Sarah said. One of my good friends is living in Virginia Beach this year.

The girls said they have noticed many differences between T.C. and their schools at home. Both Sarah and Lola said they had many more classes at home anywhere from 12 to 14 in a year. They also agreed that they have more homework, but, as Lola said, School is too easy.

Another big difference is that at their schools at home, teachers, instead of students, change classes. None of the girls have school-sponsored sports in their countries, but they are enjoying running with the T.C. cross country team.

One of the most overwhelming changes for the girls was the size of T.C.
My school has grades five through 13, and there are only a thousand students, Sarah said.  T.C. is much more diverse than my school, too.

The girls enjoy the elective classes here since they are not given much freedom with their school schedules at home. Sarahs favorite class is peace studies, and Lola likes technical drawing because she wants to become an architect.

I really like Mr. Dennis history class because I do not get to learn about U.S. history in France, Tamara said.

Despite their cultural differences, the exchange students are very much like the average American teenager. All three girls like to go to the movies and the mall, especially Tamara, who said, Shopping is a sport in Paris. Lola enjoys painting in her free time, while Tamara likes to rock climb.

All three girls are staying until the end of the school year, and they are optimistic about the experience. By the end of my stay, I hope to be speaking English fluently and know more about American culture, Lola said.

Jennifer Lee and Rebecca Newsham are students at T.C. Williams High School. Rebecca is an intern with The Times.

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