Students studying abroad

There are two Highland Park juniors that are studying abroad this school year. One student is studying in Finland, and the other is in Japan. I’m sure they both have different thoughts and experiences on being in a different country. In order to better understand their thoughts, I decided to interview them. The questions I asked them are:

1. How are your schools different from highland?
2. What things do they teach or do differently?
3. What are some experiences that you enjoyed most/ least?
4. What made you want to study abroad?
5. What fun and exciting things you’ve done so far?
6. What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of studying abroad?


Emma MulhernScreen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.51.00 AM

1. My school in Finland is much smaller than Highland. We only have three grades (10th, 11th, and 12th) and in all of that there are about 130 students and 15 teachers who teach them.

2. At my school we have six grading periods (there are four at Highland) and we take six classes per grading period. After each grading period we take new classes and we only take six classes per grading period. At the end of each grading period, we have exam week where we take tests for each subject (in other words we only have one test per class after six weeks of study). Also, at my school, classes are not always at the same time. I may have history in the morning on Mondays but have it be in the afternoon on Thursdays.

They teach a lot of similar things like literature, math, social studies, and science classes. However, in Finland, they are required to take English and Swedish foreign language classes and they deem English to be very important for them to learn and they must learn Swedish because it is Finland’s second national language as a minority of the population speaks it as a first language. They can take German, French, Spanish, and Russian for foreign languages.

3. I have really enjoyed just being a normal student here in Finlan and making Finnish friends. I have done many fun and interesting things here (look at #5) but I have also had hardships. My main hardship was learning Finnish. Of course at the beginning of my exchange I spoke English with my friends as I did not speak Finnish. I am still learning but now I speak it with everyone, but I of course still have a lot to learn. I never really got homesick, but I do know of many exchange students who got really homesick while on exchange during the first few months.

4. I’ve wanted to study abroad ever since my brother was an exchange student in Turkey and loved it. My family has also told me many stories from when they were exchange students. In my family, my mother was an exchange student in Sweden, my dad was an exchange student in Argentina, my brother was an exchange student in Turkey, one of my aunts was an exchange student in Japan and another one of my aunts was an exchange student in Brazil. This year, my cousin is also an exchange student in Spain. Anyways, hearing all of these stories from them made me want to have a great experience like that just like they did. They always told me that nothing will ever compare to being an exchange student. I completely agree.

5. I have done so many fun things in Finland. I have visited Tampere, one of Finland’s biggest cities, as well as gone to Lapland (Nothern Finland) where I got to go on reindeer and huskie pulled sleigh rides as well as meet Santa Claus. I have been taking a Finnish course here and I have also been playing hockey on the local hockey team. I have played hockey in America for quite a few years now and it is fun to play with the boys in Finland (as my town does not have enough people for an only girls team). At the start of the year all Rotary exchange students that come to Finland participate in a camp where we meet all the other exchange students and get Finnish (or Swedish lessons) for a week before we are sent to our new host families. Also, living with three different host families in Finland has been great as I have been able to learn about the Finnish way of life through different perspectives.

6. I would say to anyone who wants to study abroad that they should go for it. Look at different organizations that run exchange programs (such as Rotary, the program I am on exchange with) and see which one would be best for them and their needs. Then, they need to talk to their parents and convince them. This may be the hardest for most people as their parents might not want them to go because they don’t know much about it or aren’t sure if they can afford it. If they can convince their parents, then they need to find the money for the exchange. Some may be discouraged by this, but I know of an student from St. Paul who went on exchange student last year whose family had no money to pay for it. He managed to raise money to go on exchange and he had the year of his life. If he can do it, then anyone can.

In short: to anyone who is considering being an exchange student, just know that know it is one of the best experiences of your life. You make so many friends from other sides of the world and you learn about another culture and possibly another language. You get to try so many things you never would have tried in America. All of these experiences and new friends make you really appreciate the diverse world around you.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.51.34 AMCaylin Weiland

Questions 1 and 2: Schools here in Japan are very different from the schools in America. First off, all of the high schools in Japan require you to wear a school uniform. Many uniform rules are that your skirt must cover your knees, you have to wear you hair up if it touches your collar, your eyebrows must be showing, and you cannot have any piercings not even your earlobes. I’m currently enrolled at Kwassui high school, which is an all girls Protestant school. At my school in Japan, we attend a morning mass everyday in our schools chapel, and have a closing ceremony in our classrooms. At the end of the day the students from each classroom clean their own room, and clean another area in the school. For example my class we clean our own room and we clean one of the stairways. While the classroom next to mine cleans their classroom and the bathroom.  In Japan, you don’t get to choose which classes you want to take. For example you wouldn’t get to choose if you wanted to take volleyball class or choir. But, you can decide which high school course you want to take. Meaning, at most schools in Japan you can choose to join a general course, english course, or often a math/science course. These courses focus mainly on the courses subject(s), although you are still taught general required classes like math, science, Japanese, and history. Many students here, after school are in a club of their interest. I am currently in the dance club. I also used to be in the Japanese tea ceremony club called “sadou” and the Japanese archery club “kyudo”. Some students go to after school study classes, where they study and often prepare for their college entrance exam. The college entrance exam in Japan is what basically determines peoples futures, because if you don’t get a good score on the test you cannot go to a good university and, in turn you won’t be hired by a good company. So many students focus on studying for this entrance exam that basically, determines their future.

Question 3: Some of my most memorable experiences I’ve had so far were when I went to an Onsen, a Japanese hot spring, with about 20 other exchange students. There we all got buried in hot sand and then we went into the public bath house together. Although I was with just girls it was really interesting to bath with strangers whom you’ve never met, but we all got to bond and became very close after that experience. Another one of my most memorable experiences was when all of the other Rotary exchange students and myself went to a festival in October. There were big floats in the shape of dragons and fish, that men pulled in the streets. They rang bells and often lit fireworks. During that trip we went and ate at 5 different peoples houses. At one of the houses we ate “Name basashi” which means raw horse meat, which indeed it was. It was actually very good! I’ve also been able to eat shark fin soup, and many other things I had never ate before. Another one of my favorite experiences was during New years celebrations, where I got to wear a traditional Japanese Kimono, got my hair done, and ate a traditional Japanese style multi-course meal with Geisha at a Shrine.
One experience I didn’t like so much was when I first arrived and I got a heat rash, because it was so hot and humid. I also wasn’t so fond of having to use a squat toilet for the first time, in a port-o-potty. Squat toilets are gross enough indoors, but having to use one when it was 90% humidity and super hot during the summer for the first time, was not fun.

Question 4: What made me want to study abroad was my interests in other cultures. I’ve always loved to learn about other cultures, and I love to learn new languages. At Highland I took Chinese for 4 years, and really loved learning it. It was my favorite class, partially because I loved Mrs. Miao, and partially because it was just fun and exciting to get to learn the new language! I also wanted to study abroad because I knew it would benefit my future, when applying to colleges, getting jobs, and overall just growing and maturing into being my own and independent person. Being abroad you learn to adapt to the new environment, culture and language. I’ve learned so much about the people around me, the new culture, language, and mostly about myself. I’ve realized that I neglected and should be more grateful for every opportunity that comes my way, because when you’re an exchange student sometimes you’re not given a choice you just have to do everything your host family tells you to do or what your counselor or others plan for you to do. So, you really learn to love and just live with the outcome of every situation and enjoy every opportunity you’re given.

5. So far I have tried many new exotic foods! I’ve had shark fin, raw horse meat, salmon eggs, jelly fish, and a whole lot more! I’ve been able to experience many different festivals held in my city such as Obon- a day where they honor the dead by lighting fireworks and having floats that are pulled by friends and family in the streets, and Nagasaki Kunchi and Karatsu Kunchi are both festivals for different cities. I’ve also been to a “love festival”, Lantern festival, and I will have many more to go to! I’ve been to the Onsen, done Japanese Tea Ceremony, Japanese traditional dancing, played Japanese/Chinese Niko- a 2 stringed instrument, and I’ve done Japanese Archery. Some of my favorite things to do with my friends is to go sing Karaoke, or to do Purikura (a Japanese picture booth that makes your eyes big and you can design the pictures it takes). I’ve been to Hiroshima, where I went to the Atomic bomb peace park and museum. I live in Nagasaki, where the second atomic bomb was dropped. I’ve been to Saga where they had a big castle, and Fukuoka where I went to a concert and I went shopping. This is just to name a general few things I’ve done and that I really enjoyed. Soon, I’ll be going to Hokkaido (the top island of Japan) to go skiing. With my current host family they may take me to the famous island of Okinawa which is south of Japan, to go snorkeling and swimming!  I will have 2 more trips with my Family when they come in March, and with Rotary- my exchange program. Both of which I will get to go to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and with my family Hiroshima again.

6. The Advice I would give someone who is wanting to go abroad now, in high school, or in college. I would say, do it! It’s honestly life changing! You meet so many people, you’re immersed in a new language and culture. It just completely opens your eyes to the world, and for me it has made me realize all of the thing I took for granted back in America. You learn to appreciate the littler things in life and to take life 1 day at a time because time goes by so fast. I have 4 more months left here, and I swear it was just New Years.