SUMMIT, NJ – The foreign students who have been living in the Summit area for the past two and a half weeks have enjoyed a lot of things about their time in America, like learning about American history, gaining more fluency in the language and, of course, junk food.
The 19 students are in the area with Academic Adventures in America, a Summit-based non-profit student exchange program in which students from different countries stay with local families while they take part in a three-week program. Other students with the program are staying in other towns in the area.
While the main focus of the program is enhancing the students’ knowledge of the English language – which they already speak with some fluency – they have also been enjoying day trips throughout the area, including Princeton, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.
Before leaving for their trips, the students assembled in the Whitman Room at Summit City Hall to be briefed on what to expect and what would be expected of them, particularly at places of reverence to Americans, like Arlington National Cemetery.
And of course, a big part of their experience has been staying with American families.
“I love my host family,” enthused Irene Vitali from Italy. “They are so nice!”
She has been pleasantly surprised not only by her host family’s hospitality, but by creature comforts most American teenagers take for granted, like air conditioning and cupcakes.
“I know it’s not good for you, but I love your junk food,” Irene said. “It tastes good.” The other students laughed and agreed.
Program Director Rose Jackson said that while people tend to think they need to have teenaged kids at home to be the ideal hosts for the visiting students, that’s emphatically not the case. Hosts are often single people, couples with no kids at home, or people with young children. In fact, she said, families with young children often enjoy the experience the most as younger kids get much out of the experience of living with someone from another culture.
Most of the students agreed that the hospitality they’ve been shown by Americans was unlike what an American student may have found in Europe. People don’t so easily open their homes to strangers, they said, at least not without financial compensation.
While they’ve enjoyed visiting Summit and the surrounding area, their day trips have been a highlight. Jimena Miranda of Spain said she loved seeing the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Little Italy, Chinatown and the South Street Seaport.
Manon Petiton of France said she particularly liked meeting so many people from other countries, leading to a discussion about American being a “melting pot” or, more recently, a “salad bowl.”
“People here are very kind and generous,” Petiton said. “We have learned so many things about America.”
The students were eager to discuss the differences between what they expected America, and Americans, to be like and the reality. They agreed that while everyone is nicer and more generous than they even expected, Mathilde Tei of Italy said she was a little puzzled by the clothing worn by American teenagers – the styles are much different than what teenagers in Italy wear, and she said it often looks as though American teens don’t care how they look.
Irene added that American teenagers also don’t seem to always appreciate how good they’ve got it.
“People are much more open-minded here than they are in Italy,” she said. “American young people have so many more chances than we do.”
And, more than one student pointed out, they’ve also learned just how patriotic Americans are.
“Americans are very proud of their country,” said Augustin Hochet of France.
His comment followed a long discussion with teachers Lauren Kelly and Dan Catena about the somber atmosphere they should expect at Arlington Cemetery, and the Tomb of the Unknown.
This group of students returns to their home countries this weekend, but Jackson said a new batch comes in every year, and host families are always needed.