Exchange Students at Yorktown and in the Community (Post-Visit)

Nick Kautzsch (left) and Linus Petersen (right) plan on returning home at the end of the school year.
Nick Kautzsch (left) and Linus Petersen (right) plan on returning home at the end of the school year.
Ella McNamee

In early October, The Sentry published a story detailing the transition to school and life in the United States of two sophomore exchange students, Nick Kautzsch from Germany and Linus Petersen from Denmark. Now, after spending an entire year living in the US, Kautzsch and Petersen have formed their own opinions regarding American culture and society.

Both Kautzsch and Petersen have changed a lot since October. Kautzsch still has an affinity for putting honey on all foods, but since the fall, has become noticeably more socially confident and is now plays on the junior varsity (JV) soccer team. Petersen still has the same vibrant personality but can now be seen sporting a stylish new bleached hair color around school and surrounded by groups of peers.

Kautzsch and Petersen have noticeably adjusted to life in Arlington, a fact that only gets more obvious when speaking with them.

After a whole year going to school in the United States and interacting with students who grew up speaking English, both Kautzsch and Petersen have noticeably improved their English skills as well as expanded their vocabulary.

“I definitely think my English skills have improved .… It obviously just helps only speaking a language for an entire year. I also really enjoy writing, especially in English, and I may enjoy it even more than writing in Danish,” Petersen said.

Petersen also remarks that he has grown so used to reading, writing, and speaking in English that he no longer hears Danish in his head when using his second language.

As they have continued to improve their English skills, Kautzsch and Petersen have been able to establish social lives here in the US, and both echo positive sentiments about the school community.

“Everyone was really welcoming, and it’s just a great community. I joined the soccer club, and everyone is just really nice and funny … and the Yorktown community in general is the same,” Kautzsch said.

Petersen was also adamant that high school in the US was not as he expected based on his research watching movies and television.

“From all the stereotypes of American high school [presented in TV and movies], it was definitely a surprise to me that it seemed like there were really no problems at all. All the students seemed nice, and I really didn’t see any signs of bullying around the school,” Petersen said.

Petersen, under the influence of many shows and movies, was expecting a much more toxic, drama-filled environment. However, when he actually experienced high school in the US, he learned that the version of school he knew from the movies was actually far from reality. Petersen stressed that he had learned from this experience the importance of not judging something based on rumors and stereotypes.

“I personally think that being cultured and tolerant is a really important thing because you can’t afford to judge people based on stereotypes and things you don’t really know about them,” Petersen said.

Unfortunately, both Kautzsch and Peterson will leave the US this summer, but they both say that they will miss the friends they made and the experiences they had in this country.

“I would say [of] all the things [that] I wanted to do in America, I have done most of them…. I have done lots of touristy stuff, memorials [and] museums,” Kautzsch said.

Kautzsch elaborated on what he will miss the most about his stay in Arlington, describing how he enjoys the school system and the way that our school day is structured.

“I am going to miss the school system.… I like having the same classes everyday …. In Germany, every day is different, and the classes don’t repeat that frequently.… It just feels better to wake up in the morning and not have to look up your schedule to see what classes you have that day,” Kautzsch said.

Petersen, however, is more concerned about leaving behind the wide range of people that live and go to school in Arlington.

“I am going to miss the diversity in the school.… There are just all kinds of people from all kinds of places when you have a big school. I really like that,” Petersen said.

He went on to explain that Denmark is a less diverse country, so the diversity was one of the things that stood out to him about his visit here.

“In Denmark, it is a very homogeneous, all white, Scandinavian vibe that you get all around. Here, it’s America, so you get all kinds of people from all kinds of social classes with all different experiences,” Petersen said.

Both Kautzsch and Petersen seem to have enjoyed their exchange year, and they both can identify numerous different aspects of American society and culture that they are going to miss. Unfortunately, that does not change the fact that early this summer, both Kautzsch and Petersen will head back overseas to their home country and reunite with their friends and family.

Their lives will once again undergo rapid change as they attempt to re-adjust to life in their home country. While they both seem genuinely excited to see some familiar faces, they also are aware of some potential challenges that they will face.

Earlier in the month, Petersen attended a mandatory exchange student meeting in which he learned of the potential challenges that he will face upon his return to Denmark.

“The organization that I am traveling with just hosted a mandatory seminar to prepare us to go home and they talked about this reverse culture shock.… I think it is definitely going to be weird because there is such a monumental difference between where I am from and here,” Petersen said.

Regardless of this “reverse culture shock,” Kautzsch and Petersen are both excited to reunite with their families. Kautzsch is even planning on flaunting one of the things that he improved over his year in the US: his basketball skills.

“I am planning on playing basketball with [my friends and family] …. They don’t really teach the layup in Germany,” Kautzsch said.

Eight months ago, two students walked through the front doors and into a school where no one knew their name — a school where not only were the students speaking a different language but learning on an entirely different curriculum from the one they were used to. The challenges that they had to face in this environment were difficult to overcome, and over the year, both Kautzsch and Petersen proved to themselves and everyone around them that they have the ability to be independent and to work through adversity.  

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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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