Cultural Connections

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By: Sarah Stortz

Cedar Falls High School has had a long tradition of hosting exchange students from all over the world, and this year three students will continue this tradition. Sophomore Maria Juan Rollan, junior Mahmud Mazdy and sophomore Saina Abdollahzadeh have individually answered a set of questions regarding how the exchange program has been going for them so far.


What city are you from? What is it like?

Maria: Vigo, Spain. It’s pretty much has the same temperature as Cedar Falls, but it rains a lot more.

Mahmud: Bogor, Indonesia. It’s mostly urban, and the temperature there is very warm and humid.

Saina: Sahiraza, Iran. I lived in Georgia for one year due to my exchange program.


What activities did you do at your old school? Are there any that you’d want to do at CF?

Maria: I’ve played basketball in my school’s old team, Chinese classes and drawing classes. I’m in cross country and would like to try basketball and tennis here.

Mahmud: I played soccer, and a hiking and camping team, and was in student council. I’m in cross country now, and I would like to try basketball.

Saina: I played volleyball, basketball and did art activities. I’d like to do tennis and bowling here.


Do you have a host family? If so, how has it been living with them?

Maria: My parents have three children: one daughter who is my age and two other sons who are 15 and 11. I’m really happy with them, and they’ve been really nice to me.

Mahmud: They’re good. I only have a father and mother. I don’t have a host sibling.

Saina: I have four sisters, but two of them live separately, and my mom and dad. It’s good and fun living with them. I have a sister here my age, and we have lessons here together.


What was the reason exactly you decided to do the foreign exchange program? Why the United States in particular?

Maria: I wanted to learn the language English, and I wanted to live in the United States and try to live the American lifestyle. I’ve already to been to Ireland, and I wanted to try something different because the others were too similar to the ones in Spain.

Mahmud: It wasn’t really my choice to go to the United States. I first joined AFS, but I then switched to the YES program and was placed here. I wanted to experience this and learn the culture and spread my culture around to other countries.

Saina: I really wanted to see America and improve my English.


Are you planning any siteseeing adventures over the course of this year?

Maria: Yes, I would like to visit more states in America and maybe join in a bus trip that visits all of the big cities in the United States.

Mahmud: Yeah, I hope so, but I might not have the chance. I hope to go to the Smithsonian Museum and do something like skiing and snowboarding.

Saina: I’m not sure, but I think I might be going to Chicago with my host family.


What are you most excited about in this program?

Maria: That I will visit another continent, I will travel a lot and live in a different country.

Mahmud: Going outside of the country is already exciting for me. Almost all of it is exciting for me.

Saina: To see how America is really like. Everyone has a different imagination on what a country is like, and I wanted to see what it’s really like.


What would you say is the most difficult aspect about doing the exchange program?

Maria: That you have to leave your family and your friends and your old life. You will return to it in a year, but it’s hard to return to something completely different.

Mahmud: The most difficult is trying to make a lot of friends because they all speak English really fast. You still don’t know what they’re talking about.

Saina: Adjusting to a new environment and having to talk in English all day.


Who has been particularly helpful in your adjustments to Cedar Falls? How so?

Maria: My host family, of course. They’ve been too nice and try to make me feel comfortable because they know how much of a change it is.

Mahmud: Mostly my hosts and the counselors in the school. They give me tips on how to make it and what to do and not do at school or anywhere.

Saina: My host sisters and my host parents. My sisters help me to find where my classes are at the school because I’ve been lost the first couple days. They also help me understand people who speak English really fast and help me learn more about this culture.


What are some key differences you can explain about your school experience here at Cedar Falls from the school you had at home. What’s one big similarity?

Maria: You stay in a class with one teacher, and you don’t have one that comes in and out. At lunch, you finish all your school activities beforehand, and you can go home right after lunch. One similarity is that the teachers are always there to help you.

Mahmud: First, my school in Indonesia was kind of a small school, and you almost know all of the people there, and it’s easier to make friends. I usually stay in one classroom in Indonesia, but here, you have to move around a lot to go to your different classes. I also usually finish school at 12, and I also have school on Saturday. The lessons here are similar, and the subjects aren’t very different from my country, and system is the same.

Saina: The school is so much bigger. They have different clubs here, and in my old school, they had a different schedule every day, but here, the schedule is the same. A similarity is that they both teach lessons in English.


Have you ever felt homesick so far? What particularly do you miss the most about your home country?

Maria: My family. It’s hard to not have them because you feel alone when you’re here.

Mahmud: My friends definitely. My family too, sometimes.

Saina: No. I haven’t been homesick, but I miss my friend and family sometimes, but I still talk to them a lot.


What do you hope to gain from this experience?

Maria: I hope to gain understanding of the English language, have a lot of friends from here and have a lot of good relationships.

Mahmud: To build my confidence, to make more friends and to make my English better. Also to manage myself to be a better person.

Saina: To make more friends, improve my English and learn the American culture.

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