Different World Experience

Argyle Foreign Exchange Students Speak on Differences of American Living


©The Talon News | Alina Garcia

Through a foreign exchange program, students like Dutch foreign exchange student Esther Waalkens live with a host family and now attend Argyle High School.

Annalise Bodine, Junior Reporter

While Americans often feel like the world revolves around the “Land of the Free,” it’s difficult for most to comprehend life outside of the United States. For the thousands of foreign exchange students, traveling from their home countries to America, life, culture, and community can feel upside down.

Although the foreign exchange program was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it made its return this year to Argyle with the lifting of travel restrictions and reinstatement of student visas. At the beginning of August, six diverse students from around the world made the journey from their homes to our community.

Currently, in the sixth month of her junior year, Waalkens continues her four core classes along with electives like theater. (©The Talon News | Alina Garcia)

Over the past six months, they have experienced a new culture, a new family, and a new school. They were introduced to the Texas way of life including homecoming mums, Argyle football, and good ol’ southern cuisine.

“I really loved Homecoming, it was very fun,” junior and Dutch foreign exchange student Esther Waalkens said. “Just seeing everyone so pretty and the dancing and the music, we didn’t have those types of things at my school.”

Even though Texas has much to offer, the transition away from home to a foreign place is difficult. These students immerse themselves into a new way of life, form friendships, practice a foreign language, and experience culture shock throughout their year in America. 

“Miles, cups, and Fahrenheit have been very strange,” Waalkens stated. “We have it different in Europe. We use Celsius, Kilometers, and Grams. I also miss my family and friends, and just riding a bike.” 

Exchange programs are beneficial and crucial to making school a diverse, thriving place. They give students an opportunity to make friends from across the world and broaden their perspective on the world.

“It’s a really good program, and every school should have one,” freshman Reese Hamilton said. “It lets foreign people explore new parts of the world. They are very brave. I don’t think I could ever do what they do.”

Not only is it socially beneficial but it’s also academically enriching. It gives foreign exchange students an opportunity to study coursework not available in their home country.

“I love how I get to learn about American culture and take classes based on things I like, such as choir and video production,” junior and Finnish foreign exchange student Anna Villfoer said. 

Waalkens works on theater photo project. (©The Talon News | Alina Garcia)

Unfortunately, It can be hard, at times, to find available host families that are compatible with the students. If no volunteers are available, their whole trip can get canceled and never materialize. When students and families do click, it can be an extremely rewarding experience.

“My favorite part of hosting a student has been seeing my kids interact with someone from another country,” Waalken’s host mom Lianna Bodine said. “Watching them realize that, despite their differences, they actually have a lot in common. It opens up the world to them by fostering friendships with students from different cultures.”