Washington High School has an international flair with its four foreign exchange students this year.
Altyn Shaikhova, 16, is from Kazakhstan; Hannah Purner, 15, is from Austria; Salome Kapanadze, 16, is from Georgia; and Sultan Khan, 15, is from Pakistan.
Shaikhova, Kapanadze, and Khan are World Link students here on scholarship and Purner is a Rotary exchange student.
Khan found out he would be coming to Washington in late July.
“I found out when it was the end of July, like the 25th or 26th of July, and then I had to prepare and came on Aug. 12,” Khan said.
Immediately Khan was struck by how openly people discussed their views on religion and education. Back home in Pakistan, he said, people would discuss those topics but not as freely as they do here.
Another difference he saw was traveling from classroom to classroom at Washington High School.
“One interesting thing is like in our schools you have to stay in the same class and the teachers change but in here you have to change the teachers with the classrooms,” Khan said.
Another difference Khan noticed is that he did not have to study a religion at school. In Pakistan, Islamia, the study of Islam, is taught daily to students.
When asked if he had a favorite subject Khan said he didn’t have one but thought all of the teachers were really nice.
“Teachers here are more frank and friendly here,” he said. “In Pakistan, they are really serious. They will help you with any question or problem you have but teachers here will give you a better understanding. They seem more interested in teaching you here.”
Khan attended a military academy, in Pakistan, which was stricter. He would have seven or eight classes every day in 40-minute increments. Sometimes his day would start at 8 a.m. and other times he would start a little later.
Shaikhova found out she was coming to the United States in July as well.
“Coming to America has always been my dream,” she said. “It was really my dream and I wanted to study here, so my mom decided to send me here to study. But it cost a lot of money, so I had a lot of other options of places to go and study, so when I found this program [the YES scholarship] and I was the age, it was like my last chance. I can try it again and just did my best. When I won, I was so happy.”
She said there are a lot of differences here compared to her country.
“Everything is different,” Shaikhova said, “food, people, education system, the weather.”
Back in Kazakhstan, the students don’t have a choice for what subjects they can study, she said. Her favorite subject is U.S. history.
Where she is from she would attend school from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“Really?” asked Purner.
“Yes,” she said. “Little kids have school from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., but older kids start at 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.”
Her lessons would last 10 to 20 minutes each with some study time in between, she said.
It took her a while to get used to the block scheduling at Washington High School. She said she didn’t like it when she first came because she thought the classes were too long.
“It would be better if the classes were 45 minutes long with a lot of different subjects,” she said.
Kapanadze came to Iowa in early August and is looking forward to sharing her culture with Americans.
“A lot of Americans don’t know about my culture, and I wanted to learn their lifestyle and their culture,” she said.
She noticed the landscape was different when she came to Iowa and the difference in the education system.
“Here, like climate is the same in my country,” Kapanadze said. “But here is different like schools and different education system, and also in my country there are a lot of mountains, but here is plains.”
She doesn’t have a favorite subject but has also noticed how friendly the teachers are.
“If you give them a high five it’s good, but in my country you wouldn’t do that,” she said.
In Georgia, school would start at 9 a.m. and go until 3 p.m. with six to seven different lessons being taught, Kapanadze said.
“They last 45 minutes,” she said.
Purner first got the idea to study abroad from her friend who was a foreign exchange student in Canada. She said she doesn’t know what made her pick America but is happy with the decision.
Everything is different in Iowa from her home in Austria.
“With me it wasn’t the weather but the culture, landscape, and the people,” Purner said. “Basically everything.”
In Austria students have a forum to teach them how to speak to someone who is higher than they in German with that vocabulary.
“They’re really higher than you and you can feel it every way,” she said.
In Austria, she wasn’t allowed to choose her classes. The amount of time students spent in school also depended on their age, she said. She said sometimes she would be in school until 4 or 6 p.m. depending on the subject she was studying.
Before they return to their home countries they all said they would like to travel to different cities, such as New York City and Washington, D.C.
“My program offers a tour at the end of my exchange,” Purner said. “It’s a one-month tour of America, and I really want to take part. Not everybody can take part because there’s one bus with 50 seats, so I really hope I can do that.”
Khan has family in Texas and would like to visit them in December but has to get it arranged first, he said.
Shaikhova is traveling to Arizona with her host family this week, she said. She would like to visit California and New York. She will be traveling to Arizona with her host family this week.
Kapanadze has plans to visit Louisiana with her host family after Christmas. She said she would like to visit California and has plans to visit Washington, D.C., and New York before she returns home to Georgia.