Exchange Students Venture to America

The Exchange Experience


What does it mean to be a Chinese exchange student in the United States of America? Ten brave souls took it upon themselves to find out. The students, all hailing from Beijing, China, left home to venture into a true American experience.

The students took the lengthy 18 hour journey to the states, filled with excitement and enthusiasm, wondering what the host families will be like, whether they will be accepted as members of the ODA community, if they’d even like the US. Some would say it takes true courage to take part in an exchange program halfway around the world.

Put yourself in their shoes; how would you feel if you were traveling to China? Terrified? Overwhelmed? Details about the house, where they were sleeping? what would they eat? Would the family like me? Would the other students? Would I feel awkward? Watching TV in English? Martin played some of his songs in Chinese, I liked the songs he played, even though I did not understand all of the words, I could feel the emotion.  

“I just think we are shy, and hard to talk with American students and we are nervous because we have different skin, different culture, different living that with American people and also we miss home with China,” said William.

When the students arrived at ODA, It did not take long until they became integrated. Everyone found connections at our home. Hē and Alina indulge in Sarasota shopping. Martin went to an NHL Game at the Amalie Arena; Leo travelled to the American Airlines Arena in Miami to watch an NBA game; William attended a Bar Mitzvah; Richy went fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.  Whether it be Leo’s or Martin’s experience with professional sports in America, or Hē and Alina’s discovery of the UTC mall; Richy’s fishing adventure, or William’s Bar Mitzvah experience, everyone found a second home in America.

At first, some were timid, but as time went on, they started to feel more comfortable and let their personalities shine. Everyone said their favorite part of America was the people and the community.

In their classrooms, they loved the nonlinear education style in America.

I love it. It is more free,” said Martin.

The exchange program not only brought Chinese students, but also brought a taste of Chinese culture, a wonderful experience many of us will never forget.

For host families, the experience was even more pronounced. My family and I hosted Martin. We found it entertaining, enriching, and so much more. Sensing his excitement with getting involved in American culture made me feel happy that he was genuinely interested in the normal parts of my life. Bridge?? It was also cool having him introduce some of Chinese culture to us.

Senior Garrett Luhman and 8th grader Cole Kirshner shared their thoughts on what the host family experience was like. Garrett said that “[Richy] really enjoyed it and [was] glad that [his family was] able to help him with English and help him enjoy America.” Cole said that at first “things were kind of awkward with Leo, but after the first day he was just another schoolmate… He loved to try new things, he was so excited… It was a good experience watching him enjoy the people, food, culture. I hate to see him leave”

William said that being hosted was “Pretty good. If you try and talk something they will help. They will always help so good.

From the time i spent with Martin, my exchange student, I found the genuine passion and love they had for both America and China. I think that the exchange program taught us that there is a lot in common between American and Chinese culture, while having distinct differences that make each one unique. 

Both the ODA community and the students from Kai Wen Academy would agree that the experience taught us life from a different perspective. It introduced life from a different culture to everyone who was a part of it, and for many of us it has become a part of who we are now. An anonymous quote reads Before you go on your exchange, you see with your one eye, but after you come back, you’ll open both…

The exchange program affected the ODA community like salt does to food. For example given caramel, the majority of people would agree that caramel by itself tastes great, but with salt it tastes even better. ODA is like the caramel and Chinese culture is like the salt. ODA is a great community that sticks together and is sweet throughout, but mix in a little Chinese culture and you have something greater. Like salt, which is a great preservative, Chinese culture helped preserve those two weeks of our lives forever. Normally two weeks are two weeks and you forget about them in no time, but like salt does to food, this experience truly preserved those two weeks forever, made the ODA community a little better, even impacted some people in Sarasota outside of ODA. I think we can all agree that the exchange program changed our lives, as well as theirs. We may be 7600 miles away, but we are now one community.