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"Foreign students give fresh perspective on school, teachers, boys"
"Two weeks from now, nine months in the United States will only be a memory for foreign exchange high school students (from left) Svenja Koehn, Juliane Gruenberg, Daisy Redele, Stephanie Vanderheyden, Fernanda Pires, Linda Klein, and Anne Greiwe. These seven girls, along with Japanese student Saeko Ito (not pictured), travel back to their home countries shortly after Saturday's commencement at South Whidbey High School.Matt Johnson / staff photoSeen through the eyes of foreign exchange students, American high school teachers are friendlier than most, school is both a daily educational and social experience, and American teenage boys are perhaps a bit too polite on a first date.These observations come from eight girls who have spent the last nine months as foreign exchange students at South Whidbey High School. Coming from Germany, Belgium, Brazil, and Japan, the girls have spent the school year learning in the same classrooms as South Whidbey students, playing on school athletic teams, and making friends with their classmates and among themselves. Four of the eight girls are from Germany and two are from Belgium. Japan and Brazil have one representative each in the group. Though they are from a wide variety of countries, these students have come to may of the same conclusions about American student culture during the past months. On the top of the list is the relaxed but organized atmosphere at South Whidbey High School. Linda Klein, who is one of the German students, said she discovered early in the school year that the teachers at the school want to have friendships with the students even as they teach them. That has allowed her to be more comfortable in class.The teachers have more of a friendly relationship, she said.That relationship is a departure from what Belgian students Daisy Redele and Stephanie Vanderheyden learned in their grade-school years back home, when they were required to stand whenever a teacher entered the room. The action was a sign of respect. There is nothing so formal at South Whidbey High School, said German student Anne Greiwe, who has felt relaxed in class, even when the English instruction eluded her occasionally during her first few months of school.It's more laid back here, she said.By now, English and American culture have set in. Fernanda Pires, a Brazilian student, said she has been here so long that she has trouble speaking to her mother during weekly telephone calls home.I don't know how to speak Portuguese anymore, Pires said with a laugh.The girls agreed that the school and the surrounding community were well organized. They were most impressed by how quickly students evacuated the building during fire drills, and, in on instance, how fast emergency medical technicians made it into a classroom where a student had collapsed. Pires medical help could take more than a half hour to get to an emergency in Brazil.The students also had their complaints. Juliane Gruenberg said on-time attendance is far too important at South Whidbey High School. In her German school, things are a bit more loose.I like the fact that you can be late, she said.Though the school's four-period day met with her approval, Redele said the academics could use a boost in a few classes.I think some classes are too easy, she said.Klein agreed.I think we have a better general education in Germany, she said.Given the opportunity, one improvement these students would make in the South Whidbey High School curriculum would have little to do with reading, writing, or arithmetic. Freshly back from last Saturday's school prom, six of the girls said someone needs to teach American boys that they need not be so slow when they are on a date. Pires said she knows exactly what she would teach in this hypothetical class.Teach them how to flirt, she said as her exchange student friends broke into laughter while the group was gathered around a school conference table Monday.While on South Whidbey, the exchange students stayed with host families. Most stayed with just one family. Vanderheyden, a Rotary exchange student, was the only exception. She had three host families during the school year.The students are all the equivalent of high school seniors and will graduate with the South Whidbey Class of 2001 Saturday. "