Experiences of Exchange Students


Jeremy Kamber and Jay Johnson, Editor, Staff Writers

With Thanksgiving approaching, exchange students from France arrived at Grand & Warren. Here are some of their experiences.

Arriving in mid-November, exchange students were able to immerse themselves in American culture during their travels to popular tourist attractions in New York and through excursions to see iconic plays on Broadway. Often acting as settings for movies or the backdrops of social media posts, many of these metropolitan attractions are testaments to both the grandiosity of business and innovation and the mixture and exchange of cultures, foods, architecture, and ideas. One French exchange student mentioned that “the visit of the World Trade Center” was his favorite activity. “The view,” he lauded, was very impressive, being a highlight of his trip. Another student brought attention to her experience at Times Square, mentioning that she enjoyed its “lights” and ambiance.

While many students enjoyed the urban setting of New York City and in particular that of Broadway, others found joy in the more quaint cultural activities and traditions that they were able to take part in. For example, one student enjoyed many of the activities done during the school day. These activities, like club meetings during Community Period, or basketball during gym class, help forge a strong communal bond throughout the student body, a key facet of the Prep brotherhood. In particular, he liked playing Androball with his peers, and was impressed that the entire school could fit into a single room during our Thanksgiving ceremony. Another student described her experience during Thanksgiving with her host’s family: “I loved the atmosphere and [discovering] this party that we do not have in France, but also [trying] the typical dishes of this tradition.” It is interesting how customs such as these are emphasized by the exchange students. Looking from the outside in, Thanksgiving is a unique holiday and an important gathering, especially for families who are often separated by distance. Thanksgiving, the holiday emphasizing gratitude and familial connection, is an integral tradition in American culture which, ironically, we may at times take for granted.

The exchange students also noticed a few key differences between their home country and America. One French student remarked on the imbalance of the American diet in comparison to France, exclaiming that some people “[don’t] know how to [have] a balanced meal.” Especially in cities and shopping centers, fast food restaurants with unhealthy menus are seemingly ubiquitous. Students also noticed differences between schooling and scheduling in both countries. The classes in France, noted one student, had 30 students on average (much larger than some American schools) and were “of the same level.” Teachers were “adapting” to the learning rate of each student as they don’t have honors, or AP level courses to separate students by proficiency.

Furthermore, many Spanish exchange students noted the evident amount of Spanish influence found among the Jersey City community. “Almost everywhere I [looked], there was Spanish stuff,” noted one exchange student. Spanish and Latin American influences among American culture and society were, in the eyes of the Spanish exchange students, very interesting: “Seeing and hearing Spanish almost everywhere was surprising… I knew there were a lot of Spanish speakers in the States, but I didn’t think there [were] this [many].”

The exchange students could not state just how grateful they were for the warm and embracing manner of both their hosts and the school community. As one Spanish student remarked, “The atmosphere was very welcoming…I felt like I was back [at] home.” The French exchange students shared a similar view; as a token of appreciation, the French students wrote a brief thank you note on the whiteboard outside O’Keefe Commons.

All in all, the exchange programs were a positive experience, both for the exchange students themselves and their hosts. They were able to get a glimpse into American culture, and visit popular tourist spots in New York City: “I really loved this exchange because I visited a lot of places, … tested a lot of new things, and above all, I met amazing people, so it would be a great pleasure to do an exchange like this [again].”