McKenna Clippert just returned in December from a three-month trip as a foreign exchange student to Austria, and she can’t wait to go back.
“Austria is a lot cleaner, safer, and very relaxed. They’re not as focused on getting ahead as we seem to be in the United States,” said McKenna, a Smith-Cotton High School senior. Being a foreign exchange student was brought up at the dinner table with her parents. She’d left the country before and loved travelling, so she knew she was up for the experience.
It didn’t take much convincing for her parents to be on board. Her father, Dave Clippert, said he’d been to a Lion’s Club meeting a few years ago and heard from a S-C student who had been to France as a foreign exchange student. A few years later, McKenna went on a two-week trip to London and Paris; her father said this is when she really decided being an exchange student would be something she’d want to do.
“We have always supported McKenna, but we did have to say that a couple of places were off limits because of either the expense or situations were taking place in that country where we didn’t feel it would be safe,” Dave Clippert said.
McKenna’s German teacher at S-C, Wendy Stallins, loves the idea of being an exchange student.
“I wish everyone had the opportunity,” said Stallins, who believes when people travel somewhere, it stops being foreign and people adapt to the new environment. Stallins also went to Austria as a student, along with Germany, but has been to Mexico and France, too.
“I was thrilled for McKenna to go to Austria, but am glad to have her back,” Stallins said. “ She can talk about her experiences, and her German has gotten so much better.”
Going to school in Austria is much different than it is here in the States. The students there take a lot more classes, such as multiple science classes and Latin, but students are expected to take many language classes, too. The schools are also specialized, so McKenna went to a music school. She said it was kind of difficult making friends because of the language barrier.
“It was hard to communicate fully,” she said. Although there was the language barrier, McKenna said Austrians are typically very nice and they were interested in her because she’s American.
Being an exchange student can be quite expensive. McKenna paid around $8,000 for a trimester, but a full year would be about $14,000. McKenna said it was well worth it though.
“I think my favorite thing was that I was forced out of my comfort zone, and I became this completely different person, and I fell in love with the person I became,” she said.
Stallins said Smith-Cotton usually has at least one German student each year.
“Having students come is phenomenal,” she said.
Benefits of being a foreign exchange student are that it broadens the mind and students become aware of differences. Julie Willadsen, a Spanish teacher at Smith-Cotton, said, “You learn that ‘different’ doesn’t always mean ‘bad’ firsthand.”
McKenna’s father can understand parents being reluctant to sending their child away to another country, but he said communications such as Face-Time made everything easier. Austria also changed McKenna in a good way as a person.
“She is more independent, is able to take on her own challenges, and this provided to her maturation process. We both think this will serve her very well when she goes away for college,” Dave Clippert said.
McKenna still talks to her friends from Austria and her youngest host sister helps her with her German homework. Coming back was hard but McKenna wants to go back next year for her class’s graduation.
“I basically want to hop on a plane back (to Austria) as soon as I can,” she said. McKenna said she misses everything: being in a big city, living close to so much history, the mountains, her friends and the food.
For anyone wanting interested in being a foreign exchange student, McKenna offers some advice.
“Don’t go with high expectations,” she said. “There are hard parts and people don’t realize that.”