Exchange Students at Yorktown and in the Community

Nick Kautzsch from Germany.
Nick Kautzsch from Germany.
Camille Kuwana

The first day of school can be nerve racking: finding new classrooms, meeting new teachers and saying goodbye to the relaxing days of summer. This day is difficult for freshman in particular because they are not only adjusting to a new school but also to the amount of work in high school. Imagine having to deal with all of these things while being away from your family, living in a new country and learning English as a second language.

Sophomores Nick Kautzsch from Germany and Linus Petersen from Denmark are living that reality as they participate in an exchange program that allows international students to study in the US. Their experiences offer a new perspective on our school, our community and the US as a whole.

Leaving their families and friends behind to come to the US was not a decision which they took lightly. Both Kautzsch and Petersen had someone in their lives who encouraged them to come to here.

“A really good friend who did an exchange program advised me to come to the US and not Canada because it is really nice here,” Kautzsch said.

Petersen also explained an interesting detail about the exchange program that made the experience even more intimidating.

“The exchange student program functions so that I could only pick the country; I couldn’t pick the state or the city,” Petersen said.

However, Petersen seemed content with his placement. After explaining that in Denmark biking is an important form of transportation, he went on to say that our bike trails are not as remarkable as the ones in Denmark. He was excited to try them out nonetheless.

“I was pretty excited when I heard that I was going to live in Arlington, Virginia- just a bike ride away from the White House,” Petersen said.

Kautzsch was thrilled to be living so close to our nation’s capital, but with this he has been exposed to one of the US’s shortcomings: the bread.

“When I came here, the bread was different. We Germans are known for our bread. My host family and I found a German bakery here and we bought German bread, and I use it every day,” Kautzsch said.

In order for exchange students to come here, they need to pass physical exams, write numerous essays and take language tests, but the most important thing that they need is a host family. Host families are also interviewed and background checked by the exchange organization to see if they are fit to host an exchange student.

“We were vetted, very much vetted. We researched different agencies that sponsored students … and that organization handled everything from A to Z,” Kautzsch’s host mother Dawn Pons said.

Not only are these families committing to taking care of another child for a year, they also have to live with them in the same house, which can be awkward for all parties.

“You don’t really think about how automatically you do things at home, and then [when] you come to another different house, you have to ask for everything,” Kautzsch said.

Despite some of the awkwardness, both the host and the students feel comfortable with each other.

“My host family … they feel pretty close to family to me,” Petersen said.

Pons echoed the benefits of new experiences.

“It’s more fun … it’s a unique experience for the whole family,” Pons said.

Not only are Kautzsch and Petersen adapting to American culture and our community, they also have to adapt to their new school. It was a little bigger and more modern than they were expecting. Kautzsch even went as far as to say that our school is like a labyrinth.

“The interior design of Yorktown was extremely surprising. I had expected gray walls and tiny little tables with no room, but design wise, it’s awesome,” Peterson said.

Kautszch also explained that in Germany, the structure of school is very different. Their grading scale is not A to F, rather it is 1 to 6 with 1 being like an A and 6 being like an F. They also run on a block schedule everyday, and their homework is not always required.

While some things may be different, Kaustszch expresses that the differences are good, especially the abundance of clubs and extracurriculars here.

“Here you can chose everything. [The clubs] are more fun [and] you see [the clubs] not as a must-have, but more like an opportunity to meet new people .… You are part of a team not just in a club,” Kautszch said.

Kautzsch and Petersen are both searching for knowledge and a sense of maturity here in the US, but they are not the only ones who can benefit from this experience. Their presence at our school is beneficial for all of us in learning about different cultures and values around the world. Some of these values may seem funny, for example, Kautzsch was avid in his defense of putting honey in milk. However, nothing can be ignored in the pursuit of knowledge, and there is nothing more interesting than primary sources like Kautzsch and Petersen.

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About the Contributor
Ryan Cole, Head Editor
Ryan Cole is a senior head editor for The Sentry. This is his fourth year on staff. He enjoys covering news from around Arlington County and is passionate about writing and journalism. Ryan also coaches his siblings in rec sports and starred in the hit Williamsburg Middle School Wolf-TV show “For Cryan’ Out Loud.”

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