The world is a pretty big place. It sustains more than 7.5 billion people in about 200 countries. However, just like people, every country is different.
Three European teenagers had the opportunity to experience this idea firsthand. Loïc Labanere and Iñigo Aranjuelo, both 17, and Juliette Petit, 18, spent the past year in Buffalo as foreign exchange students in multiple Rotary Clubs in Buffalo’s local Rotary district, 7090.
Since last August, these three students have called Buffalo their home. They came from across Europe, and all for different reasons, each attending City Honors School.
Loïc traveled from France in order to get out into the world and meet new people. "I’ve always wanted to leave [France] and discover something else, and meet new people," he said.
Iñigo, from Spain, came for other reasons. He had already had experience as a foreign exchange student, traveling to France and England for multiple weeks in the past. He said he enjoys being a foreign exchange student because of the good experiences he has had in the past.
Juliette is from Belgium and says being a foreign exchange student runs in her family.
She said, "The first time I heard about foreign exchange, I was very little. My mother was a foreign exchange student … and I kind of always wanted to do it. I was curious about living with another family, too."
Juliette grew up around foreign exchange students as well, only increasing her desire to become one herself.
When they arrived in the Buffalo, Iñigo, Loïc and Juliette were pleasantly surprised for many reasons. While Iñigo had been to many other countries before, he was shocked at how nice everyone was at City Honors and around Buffalo.
"The people are very friendly," he said, which was something he definitely wasn’t expecting. Juliette agreed and was surprised at how well they were treated by students right from the beginning of their school year. She said, "I thought people would look at me and just not say anything, but people came up to me and spoke to me, asking me where I was from. They were curious."
On the other hand, Loïc made a few discoveries himself. "I was surprised that there are not a lot of overweight people," he said, explaining it is a commonly held belief about Americans where he lives. Also, one of Loïc’s biggest concerns was that he was going to gain a lot of weight while he was here. He continued, "Before I left, everyone in my family was like, ‘Don’t eat too much!’ "
Juliette and Iñigo shared a common concern about how they were going to communicate with everyone they met. Juliette said, "I was worried about the language and making friends."
While they did have some concerns about coming to the United States, there are many more things they enjoy here that they don’t have in their homelands. Some of the most notable differences to the students was at school. According to all three of them, schools in the United States have more spirit and extracurricular opportunities than their schools back home.
Juliette explained some key differences between a normal school day in Belgium and a normal school day for most kids and teens in America. She said, "You have sports and stuff at your schools, it’s not just school. You have dances like prom and homecoming and it [the extracurricular activities] is just more exciting." Juliette, Iñigo and Loïc all explained how their school days only consist of classes and time to study. They don’t have any school sports, proms, homecoming events, musicals or any extracurricular groups.
Another aspect of the United States that Iñigo has especially enjoyed is the ease of transportation and the many ways to get around. He said, "In my city, it is very difficult for me to move [around] and here, you can hop a subway." Iñigo prefers to get around by subway or by foot in Buffalo, while Juliette likes to bike because she feels she is able to get to more places easily and know where she’s going. She says that in her home country, the roads are very bumpy in comparison to the roads in Buffalo, so biking around here is far easier.
As for Loïc, he enjoyed the independence associated with being a foreign exchange student. As he explained, being away from home has allowed him to learn more things by himself. Loïc said, "[I enjoyed] being away from my parents for a year, without my mom saying everything that I have to do, like ‘oh, you should wear a coat!’"
Speaking of wearing a coat, despite the notorious reputation that Buffalo has for its tough winters and all-around bad weather, Loïc said the weather was warmer than he expected, yet still colder than the weather in France. However, he also said he actually prefers the weather here instead.
Meanwhile, Juliette was afraid Buffalo would receive a lot more snow than it actually did. This fear was only heightened when she was asked what she would do in a snowstorm during her preparatory interview for youth exchange. While they agreed the weather isn’t as bad as they were led to believe, another nice surprise is how green Buffalo is. They each commented about the beauty of our city and especially of its parks, citing Delaware Park as one of their favorite places.
Besides rough weather, Buffalo is also known for its pizza and wings, something that all three students have come to like a lot. However, the food is still very different from what they have at home. Loïc said, "The pizza is very good and chicken wings of course, but then there’s some specialties from home that we can’t find here." While Iñigo also misses specialty hams and cheeses from Spain, he agrees the chicken wings and pizza are indeed delicious. Another difference in the food that they noticed here in the U.S. is that more of it is fast food than in their homelands.
Overall, looking back on their experiences, Loïc, Iñigo and Juliette would all recommend becoming a foreign exchange student.
Loïc advises Americans to go to a country that doesn’t primarily speak English in order to learn a new language and embrace a different culture or group of cultures. He also said that throughout this experience, he has been able to learn more about himself as a person and the people around him. The others agreed.
To everyone coming to or who is new to Buffalo, Loïc also has some tips. He said, "Try all of the foods … try everything. Never say no when someone asks you to try something." Juliette’s tips are, "Be open to new experiences even if you are not comfortable. Just like, try [new things]."
Bryan Renzoni is a freshman at Clarence High School.