Canada enjoyed by exchange students

Two teens from Europe and one from “Down Under” are among five foreign students in the fifth month of their exchange program at Fort Frances High School, where they are enrolled in Grade 11.
Valerie Romann, 16, who lives near Zurich, Switzerland, Cassie Jenkins, 16, from Sydney, Australia, and Svenja Drews, also 16, who lives near Hannover, Germany arrived here in mid-August with their sights set high after choosing Canada through the “Education First” (EF) International Language School program.
And they haven’t been disappointed.
The girls were among 80 exchange students from around the world who first met up in Toronto at a two-week “culture camp” before being dispersed to their host towns and families across the country.
“I went on holidays to America and I wanted to go back [on exchange], but other kids I know had been to Canada and they convinced me to come here, and I’m really glad I did,” Jenkins explained during a recent interview at the home of her host family, Erma and Bob Armit of Fort Frances.
“The kids were saying Canada was a lot different from America and even though I wasn’t [in America] that long, it is really different here,” she stressed.
“Another reason I picked Canada was because I knew I’d get snow. I hardly ever see snow back home,” Jenkins added with a smile.
Romann, who is staying with Mary and Gerhard Polz, echoed Jenkins’ enthusiasm for the Canadian climate. She’d been considering an exchange in England or Ireland where she’d visited before, but decided in the end for a different world.
“I like the landscape and the cold, and I like your winter,” Romann said. “I was really excited when I found out you had so much snow.”
On the other hand, while Drews isn’t debating the enrichment of being in Canada, she didn’t find the weather quite as welcoming as did her counterparts.
“The typical picture of Canada in Germany is the lakes, the nice landscape—everything that Fort Frances has—and the snow,” said Drews, who is being hosted by Linda and Danny McCoy of Fort Frances.
“We have snow [in Germany], but not as much and it’s warmer,” she noted. “For me, it is a little bit difficult to get used to the [climate].”
However, for all three young women, more impacting than the country itself is the school and teenage culture here. And for one of them is the fact that there are boys in the classroom.
“This was a big change. It’s really different here because I go to an all-girls’ school [in Australia] and we have to wear a uniform,” noted Jenkins, who expected stress over having to make choices about what to wear to school every day.
“I thought it would be really hard [and] I thought I’d be late for school every day because I would be trying to figure out what to wear, but I didn’t have any problem with it.
“And I’ve been around boys [before], but I noticed them most in my manufacturing class [here] because I am the only girl,” she laughed.
“I always thought girls’ school was fun but boys make it [more] fun. They add a lot to the school,” Jenkins reasoned.
The Australian school holiday schedule also is distinctly different, with no big chunk of time off during the summer.
The school year starts in January (the beginning of their summer) and has four terms, with a two-week holiday at the end of each term, and then a final five weeks off before students begin a new term.
Meanwhile, compared to the length of the school day in Switzerland, it would seem that students here have it pretty good—at least Romann thinks so.
“Your courses aren’t necessarily easier, but they are fewer,” she remarked. “At home we have eight or nine 45-minute courses a day.
“Sometimes we start at 7:30 a.m. and sometimes not until 9 a.m., and get off at 4 p.m. and sometimes at 6 p.m.,” she added.
For Drews, the duration of class time or the co-ed component didn’t strike her as markedly different than at home. But what kids talked about here did. Though she didn’t elaborate on the topics of conversation, it wasn’t the every day chit-chat she was expecting.
“Kids here at school are different than the kids I know [at home],” she said. “At a young age here in Canada they are so grown up—they talk about things I wouldn’t dare to talk about home, like having boyfriends and going to parties—all kinds of things,” said Drews, wide-eyed and smiling.
The popularity of body piercing also stood out for Drews.
“This is really Canadian—everyone has a piercing!” she laughed, though she has not yet followed suit.
Her fellow exchange students bit that bullet when they got here, with Romann opting for a nose piercing and Jenkins for a piercing just below her lower lip.
And what would a trip to Canada be without sampling some of the food. Some like it, some like it not.
“I was really surprised about sausages for breakfast,” said Drews. “I thought, ‘How can you eat sausages for breakfast, that’s kind of gross!’
“Then I tried one and I said, ‘This sausage is not your common sausage, it tastes a bit sweet, and ooh, that’s good,’” she chuckled, noting the food she misses most from home is German-made “real” chocolate.
“Poutine and perogies—we don’t have them at home and I’m going to miss that,” Jenkins said of her food favorites here. Back home, her palate prefers any kind of Asian food.
Romann, who at home in Switzerland would eat more pasta and potatoes, tried crab in the shell for the first time on New Year’s Eve here.
“I tried it, but it was too weird with the legs lying all over on the plate. I’m not really fond of that yet, but I like fish now,” she smiled.
Before these young women arrived here, they had a rough idea about what they wanted to do with their lives once high school was completed. But the experience of being in Canada helped that thinking along.
“I don’t really know what I want to do yet but [where I want to study] sort of changed since I got here,” Romann said. “At first I thought, ‘Yes, I would go to the University of Zurich,’ but now I’d like to study abroad.”
Before her post-secondary studies kick in a couple of years from now, Jenkins wants to backpack across Europe and pay a visit back here to Canada from “Down Under.”
“It’s made me realize that I want to have a career where I can travel and maybe working in hotels,” Jenkins remarked. “But I’m not really sure yet.”
Drews said a decision to pursue a medical career—perhaps ending up with “Doctors Without Borders”—came to the forefront since being in Canada while the career idea she thought she wanted is fading fast.
“I thought maybe a German ambassador, but no, I am not really a patriot, so I suppose an ambassador wouldn’t really be the best thing,” she chuckled.
Romann and Drews will finish off the Grade 11 semester in June before heading back to their native countries. Romann will have to repeat the year of school she missed in Switzerland while Drews will not.
Jenkins opted for a six-month exchange to avoid having to repeat a grade back home and returned to Australia last week.
Meanwhile, the other two foreign students at Fort High—both males—were sponsored through the “NACEL” cultural exchange program.
Henrique Ribas, 16, originated from Videira, Brazil and knew only a handful of English words when he arrived in Fort Frances in mid-August for a six-month exchange.
He was hosted by the Gruttner family.
Ribas’ native language is Portuguese, although today he is markedly fluent in English—born from a lot of pointing, gesturing, and repeated references to a translation dictionary.
He headed home a few days ago to the much-anticipated Brazilian climate that averages 30-40 C daily. His visit to Canada was the first time he’d ever seen snow or experienced temperatures below zero.
And Akira Kikkawa, 18, is here from Japan until the end of the term in June. He is being hosted by Fr. Wayne Macintosh of St. John’s Anglican Church.