By: Laura Ann Rodzen
I am happy to tell you about the American high school experience from the perspective of Polish girl. I have dreamt about coming to the United States since I was a little child. When I found out about an opportunity for a high school exchange for the entire school year I was on cloud nine. From the very beginning, I knew this experience was going to be unique. It turned out to be even more so because of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
As August came, I packed all the necessary things in two big suitcases and my parents and my best friend took me to the airport in Warsaw. It was hard for me to say goodbye, but I knew I really wanted to go.
Although my actual in-person high school experience started a little bit later than it was supposed to because of quarantine reasons, I immediately fell in love with Country Day.
There were a lot of things I had to adjust to, but one of the biggest was it was the first time I used a computer for taking notes or doing homework. For most of American teenagers, having a computer seems to be obvious, unlike for the Polish teenagers – we still use paper notebooks for every single class. What is more, most of the teachers in Poland write all the notes on a blackboard using chalk or dictate the notes. The second nice thing was having a locker. In Poland all the students keep their textbooks in their backpacks the entire day – there is no place to leave them for even one break. It also surprised me to have lunch at school. In all the Polish schools we don’t get a lunch break. If somebody wants, he or she can bring a snack to eat during the 10-minutes break in between classes. When it comes to the classes themselves, I was surprised by having five or six classes each week, instead of 15-21 classes. In Poland, we don’t get to choose the classes, so we spend the entire high school experience with the same group of people going through every single subject.
For these reasons, on top of being in a new country with a new language, I was shocked, excited, and somewhat lost in the beginning. But all the teachers and students around me were very helpful. They were always happy to show me where to go or explain anything in case I didn’t understand the phrase or the word. Thanks to their kindness, I started to quickly feel a sense of belonging to the CCDS community.
As it was “my year,” I wanted to try as many new things as possible. In the fall I decided to join the Investment Club and join our school newspaper The Scroll, and I got involved in the school show as a member of the building crew and as assistant stage manager. I knew that it might be a good idea to join a sport – I chose golf. As I have never played before, it seemed to be a good time to try.
Before I knew it, winter had started and with it a few more possibilities. I was happy to participate in Model UN, and even successfully received a prize for the best position paper. I also got involved in cheerleading. Although I was a little bit sad that I didn’t get to cheer during games, it still felt wonderful going to every practice. I definitely felt like I was in the movies that I used to watch as a little girl – there is nothing more American than experience than this.
January came faster than I expected, and it meant that half of my exchange was over. I didn’t want to waste too much time being sad about it, so instead I planned on living up every single moment in the upcoming semester. I became more confident in terms of learning skills, as I finally had no barriers. Luckily with the vaccinations, we all got to the point where we could be still apart but a couple of feet closer to each other. My host family was not so afraid to travel with me, so I got to see some other places. We went skiing at Snowshoe in West Virginia and we went to Universal in Orlando, Florida. In both places, we had a wonderful time together.
By the time you read this, my exchange will be over and I’m already crying when I even think of leaving it all. This year was definitely unique for me – it positively affected me as a person; I became a more independent, responsible teenager. Not to mention that my language skills improved like never before. I know I will keep in touch with as many people as possible, but I will miss what used to be my daily life for 10 months. I wish Covid-19 never happened so I could eat ‘more normal’ lunches, have experienced homecoming or prom. But I wouldn't trade this experience for anything!