Being An Exchange Student At Collegiate

This year, two students at Collegiate are exchange students: Mariana Cavalcanti de Castro, from the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil; and me, Baptiste Roussel from Chartres, France. We both have started our junior year here at Collegiate.

First day of school picture with my host family photo credit: Linda Rouse

The first day of school pictures with my host family.
Photo credit: Linda Rouse.

The first day of school is typically a challenge for new students, but even more so for foreign students. August 30th wasn’t actually my first day here this year. I was a Collegiate for one month last February on an exchange trip, but I remember that I feared getting lost in this gigantic, foreign campus. But after two days, I was able to find my classes easily. There are still some buildings where I’ve never been. For example; I initially didn’t know what is in the little house next to the church with the Collegiate sign on the door. (I found out recently that this is the Business Office.)  Lihan Ni, an exchange student in 2013 from China who was at Collegiate for one semester, says that “My first feeling when I arrived was a little bit of helpless and homesick.” She explains that the culture in China is way different than the American culture, and different food options are one of many things to get used to.  

Food is something vastly different in every country. Mariana says, “I can never finish a meal here because the restaurants always offer too much.” Meals are mostly composed of rice and beans in Brazil. France is similar; traditional French cooking is just a piece of meat with a bit of salad and a sauce. I remember the day in a small restaurant in Florida where I had the Mexican hamburger. I order it, and I receive this burrito inside a burger with fries. A lot of fries. I ate as much as possible at the restaurant and took the rest in a doggy bag. It took me two lunches to finish it. Another difference is that the free refills in all the restaurants only exist here in the USA. For example, in a French restaurant, you’ll have only one cup of soda, so you order a large to have enough, but the large in France is equal to the medium here.

Recent foreign students at Collegiate also note the different education system in America. The USA is not one of the world’s most powerful economies for nothing. Private schools like Collegiate provide the possibility to students to “design their future” as John Lim (’13) says. From Korea, John came to Collegiate for his high school years, living with Upper School English teacher Dr. Linda Rouse and her family. In Korea, people just want to succeed at school; they don’t think of their future. For them, having good grades is the most important. In France and Brazil, you don’t have the choice of your subject; you have a set number of classes taken every year from 6th grade on.

One of the pillars in Collegiate education is the team spirit. There isn’t one day where students do not work together in class. For me, this aspect is one of the keys of excellence. In Brazil, as Mariana says,, “We don’t get out of the classroom. The teacher comes in, then comes out. Basically, the class sits and listen to the teacher.”

Then there is one thing, really present at Collegiate, which impresses every student who went to a school other than Collegiate. It is what I call “The Collegiate Spirit,” based on the support of each other. Mariana says, “I realized that people here are willing to help you as much as they can. I can’t deny that every time that stuff didn’t work out for me, there was always someone to help me, so everything went fine.” This feeling of camaraderie is something difficult to find in most of the high schools in France and around the world. There is the spirit of cohesion. If you ask students at Collegiate what they are proud of, they might answer “Being a Cougar!”

For the moment, my experience as an exchange student in Collegiate is amazing. I’m with wonderful people in a wonderful school, so what else do I need? Mariana is having a great time, too. Lihan Ni had a nice moment in 2013. John Chanho Lim, who was here for four years high school, started his 9th grade as a new adventure, and he looks back on his time here fondly as well.

About the author

Baptiste is from France but he's not sure because he hates cheese.