Different countries, different people, same school. Smith-Cotton High School has foreign exchange students coming in and out throughout the year.
Junior Ladislav Soucek came all the way from Czech Republic as a foreign exchange student. Soucek doesn’t travel through a company; he decided to study in the United States to improve his language skills and to experience something new. He came to Smith-Cotton in August.
“(Smith-Cotton) is bigger than anything I’ve seen before,” he said.
Junior Emily Berkefeld came to S-C from Germany three months ago. Berkefeld joined the program with the company Taste because her sister was involved and said it was pretty cool to learn another language and meet new people. To be accepted as a foreign exchange student, Berkefeld had to go to meetings in Germany where she would give information about her life so the organizers could find a host family for her.
Smith-Cotton is Soucek’s first American school and he wasn’t used to its size and structure. Back at the Czech Republic, he would learn 15 or 16 subjects a year, including Russian and a leadership class, and classes would be held on different days. On the other hand, at Smith-Cotton he has the same subjects every day for a semester.
Katie Ellis, the junior class counselor, said creating schedules for exchange students can be difficult because of the vagueness of course titles on the students’ transcripts.
Berkefeld has found Smith-Cotton to be an interesting experience because of the different language and the fact that the time the school starts doesn’t change every day. She stays with a host family and sees it like her second family. The parent of the host family is Amy Thompson. Although not all her friends are here, Berkefeld said, “I like the people and food in America. You have better shopping here than Germany.”
The foreign exchange program isn’t just good for the participating students, but it’s also good for the other students here. Ellis said, “I think it’s a wonderful experience and it gives our students at Smith-Cotton an opportunity to attend class with someone from a foreign country which provides different views on a variety of topics.”
Berkefeld will return to Germany in seven months, while Soucek is headed home to the Czech Republic in this month.
Smith-Cotton swimming coach Jerry Tankersley, a biology and human physiology teacher at the high school, has had foreign exchange students in his classes and on his teams. Tankersley enjoys having foreign exchange students and talking about the differences between their countries and the U.S. During class, Tankersley tries to include the students in class discussions.
Sometimes, Tankersley has exchange students join the swim teams. Soucek swam on the Tigers boys team during the fall season and Berkefeld is on the girls swim team now. Tankersley said, “As far as the swim team, you expect to keep them but as a foreign exchange student, but you know you’ll just keep them for a year.”
Soucek said he really likes that there are a lot more options at the school to get involved. He said it’s not always easy though, because he has to study for Smith-Cotton classes and for his school in the Czech Republic at the same time. He advises future foreign exchange students to get involved at their new schools because they will get to meet some new people.
“This experience, I’ll have for the rest of my life,” he said.
Victoriya Kondratenko is a Smith-Cotton High School student.Reach