Imlay City High School and local families are playing host to 11 exchange students this school year. They include (front l-r) Joey Van Heerden, Carmeta Ferris-Esparcia, Tone Engh, Ahn Nyugen, (middle) Franzi Fischer, Ludovica Margiotti, Lotta Ziegler, Miguel Moraleda Martinez, Ema Fenikova, (back) Cesare Carta and Andrea Annunziata. photo by Maria Brown.
January 09, 2019IMLAY CITY — This fall 11 teenagers from across the globe called Imlay City "home." That marks the biggest group of foreign exchange students at Imlay City High School in recent years, reports counselor Jim Owen, who said it's more common to have four or five visitors during a given school year.
Despite the size of the diverse group, it's obvious the exchange students have already created bonds with one another and developed an affinity for their host families, host school and fellow students while immersing themselves in American culture.
The cohort includes Franzi Fischer, Lotta Ziegler and Ema Fenikova of Germany; Ludovica Margiotti, Andrea Annunziata and Cesare Carta of Italy; Carme (or Carmeta) Ferris-Esparcia and Miguel Moraleda Martinez of Spain; Tone
Engh from Norway; Joey
Van Heerden of the Netherlands and Anh
Nguyen of Vietnam.
Andrea will return home after the first semester ends in a few weeks while the rest will stay in Imlay City through the 18-19 school year.
Almost universally, the exchange students find American culture and education to be more relaxed than what they're used to.
Many of the teens said they were surprised to witness friendly interactions in public like those between cashiers and customers in the grocery store.
School is more "fun" in comparison to the rigors of their studies back home. Ema find the class offerings to be more enjoyable than what she's used to while Cesare likes the variety in an American school day.
"At home we have fewer subjects and everyday we have the same schedule," he said, reflecting on his school in Italy.
Carmeta said she enjoys school activities like Homecoming and admires the school spirit her fellow Spartans embody.
"On hat day, people actually wear hats. That wouldn't happen at my school," the Spaniard said.
Several have enjoyed connecting with their fellow students through sports and extra curricular activities.
In most countries, sports are not school-sanctioned, but played in a club format.
While they learn first-hand about American culture, they're also attempting to educate American peers about their own home countries.
Andrea said those schoolmates who have some general knowledge about Italy are typically the most open to learning more.
"Then, if there are some 'fun' facts we can tell them, that broadens their knowledge," he said.
The group's range of travel experiences varies. Twenty-eighteen marks the first time that any of them stepped foot on American soil, other than Miguel, who spent a summer in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
"Just a year ago I was saying I never wanted to go on an airplane," Franzi recalled.
Cesare said he's traveled extensively through Europe but wasn't quite prepared for the 13 hours worth of flights it took him to get to the U.S.
Trying to decide what to pack for nearly a yearlong stay was an understandable challenge. Many acknowledged they had to pay airline fees for 50 pound-plus luggage.
"I wanted to pack 20 hoodies but, in the end, I just took eight," Miguel said.
While in the U.S., many of the teens want to continue their wanderlust ways and explore more of North America, listing off places like California, Canada and New York.
Home Sweet Home
When asked what they missed about their home countries, nearly all 11 responded in unison, "food."
Andrea said he couldn't acquaint himself with American coffee and purchased his own espresso machine soon after arriving. He said his host dad is also enjoying the more Italian-style brew.
Franzi said she can't stomach American-style chocolate and her parents have sent a shipment of her preferred sweet treats from Germany after the quantity she took from home was eaten.
Others said they missed staples of urban life that aren't so common in rural Michigan, like public transportation.
"Nobody rides a bike here. Everybody rides a bike in Europe," Ema said.
"Here, everything is far away. You need to have a car to go anywhere," he said.
Andrea, a resident of Rome, said he's nostalgic for the historic vibe of the city.
"It's like being a tourist everyday when you live there," he said.
For many, Michigan's climate, particularly the snowy November we experienced, was something new—all except for Tone who said the regular snow showers were reminiscent of Norway.
Nearly all the students said they signed up with the exchange program in hopes of improving their grasp of the English language, making new friends and broadening their horizons.
Only a few months into the exchange, the students said they're also realizing how the exchange is strengthening their social skills.
"This has made me more responsible. I have to make decisions myself," Carmeta said.
Ema said she's grateful for the opportunity to live and study abroad.
"You learn a lot about yourself," she said.
• • • • •
A hallway display at Imlay City High School features photos and "get to know you" questionnaires featuring the school's 11 exchange students for the 2018-19 school year.
Here's a sampling of what they shared.
•Miguel Moraleda, Spain
-Favorite food: croquetas
-Favorite form of exercise: horseback riding
-Plans for the future: to become an architect or surgeon
•Lotta Ziegler, Germany
-Places she wants to visit in the U.S.: Los Angeles and Miami
-A favorite quote: "Be yourself because everyone is already taken."
-Favorite form of exercise: tennis
•Andrea Annunziata, Italy
-Chore you love doing: Cooking carbonara for his host family
-Favorite mode of transportation: the subway
-Future plans: become a diplomat
•Ludovica Margiotti, Italy
-Favorite food: Italian pizza
-A favorite quote: "Hope is the only thing stronger than fear."
-Future plans: to become a lawyer
•Ema Fenikova, Germany
-Favorite month of the year: March
-Favorite outdoor activity: riding a bicycle
-Future plans: to become a doctor
•Tone Engh, Norway
-Favorite food: sushi and tacos
-Favorite time of the year: an afternoon in July
-Future plans: to become a midwife
•Anh Nguyen, Vietnam
-Favorite activities: listening to music and drawing
-Favorite food: Vietnamese dishes
-Future profession: art
•Cesare Carta, Italy
-Favorite food: pasta with shrimp
-Favorite indoor activity: listening to music and meeting friends
-Future plans: to become a scientist
•Joey Van Heerden, the Netherlands
-A chore she loves doing: homework with her sister
-Place she wants to visit: Hollywood
-Favorite free time activities: draw or play video games
•Carmeta Ferris-Esparcia, Spain
-Favorite form of exercise: volleyball and dancing
-Future plans: to study psychology
-Favorite time of the year: her birthday and Christmas.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.