The Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff communities have long welcomed exchange students from abroad and encouraged high school students to experience the cultures of foreign countries. This year has been no exception.
With their three children living in Chicago and London, Marble Cliff residents Marybeth Hamilton and husband Stuart Muir found they had the house space and time to be “parents” to young people wanting to experience life in a foreign country.
“We contacted International Experience and were matched with not one, but two exchange students for the 2012-2013 school year,” Marybeth explains. “We have lived abroad and believe cross-cultural exchanges and experiences are beneficial for both the students and host families. Julia and Thomas wanted to experience an American high school and we have been happy to be a part of their time in the US.”
Julia Tabaczynska, age 16, from Poznan, Poland, has been attending 11th grade at Columbus International High School, housed in the former North High School building.
“My classmates are from Columbus and around the world. My best friends at school are from Palestine and Indonesia. Although I live far from the school, I try to spend time with my fellow students. I love to learn about their cultures and ways. I am taking Japanese, Chinese, English and Algebra II, among others. Most are easy, with less emphasis on book learning and more on experiences and sharing thoughts and ideas. In Poland, the curriculum is set with few opportunities to choose electives. I am VP of the Manga (Japanese drawing) Club because I have a great interest in the Orient,” says Julia, who has visited China.
“My favorite class has been globalization, where we study and discuss world events in depth,” Julia says. “I will complete my senior year of high school in Poland and then attend college to learn to direct movies. I have seen many good movies while in Columbus, and that has increased my interest in film direction.”
Thomas Kring II, age 15, is from Regensburg, Germany. He has been taking biology, English, Algebra II and U.S. history. Like Julia, Thomas hasn’t found school in America difficult.
“The student-teacher relationship at Grandview Heights High School is much different than in Germany. They have made learning fun by going beyond just required book learning. I was worried about being accepted by fellow students, but I’ve adapted and made wonderful friendships. In America, different grade levels socialize together and you have school teams, not just club teams grouped by grade.”
Thomas has participated on the soccer, bowling and Ultimate Frisbee teams.
“My friends ask me lots of questions about Germany and life at home. They’re surprised I can’t drive until I’m 18. Here, they can drive at 16, which gives them so much freedom. Experiencing high school in such nice, small communities as Grandview and Marble Cliff has been wonderful.”
Upon his return to Germany, Thomas will finish his last two years of high school before beginning what he hopes will be a professional career in soccer or gymnastics. A back-up plan is to attend college and study sports anatomy.
“I will have an advantage by living abroad and speaking English well,” Thomas says.
Learning English well was a goal of both students.
Their impressions of America? Julia says in Poland, most people live in high-rise buildings. Here, you live in houses. And there are so many fast-food restaurants. Her favorite is Panda Express; Thomas’s is Jimmy John’s. Julia says America is much more expensive than Poland. Its currency is the zloty. Thomas feels the opposite; Germany is on the Euro. Both agree that Americans seem happy and smile.
“There is no reason for Americans to be sad or mad,” Thomas says.
Julia likes how she is frequently greeted with a smile: “That is not always the case in Poland.”
Thomas summarized how they will describe the U.S. to friends back home – bigger, better, and more of everything. Although having visited America before, both agree this last school year has given them the experiences they wanted. They are grateful to their hosts for including them in American family life, especially frequent trips to Chicago, a city they enjoy. Julia has missed her grandmother’s traditional Polish food, but both agree that Marybeth has been a good cook.
As they prepare to return to their homelands and friends, Thomas and Julia are wondering what life will be like. How will their new confidence, ideas and experiences fit in with those of families and friends?
“I am much more open and talk more about my thoughts. I even argue more,” says Julia.
Thomas says that while he has changed a lot this year, his family hasn’t. “I am not the same person who left home. I wonder what will happen when the ‘new me’ gets home? I hope it will work.”
Picture: (From left to right) Julia Tabaczynska, Marybeth Hamilton, Thomas Kring, Miranda Muir and Stuart Muir