Exchange Students Reflect on a Year at MHS


Camilla Baroni

Exchange students this year at MHS were able to attend classic American events such as school dances.

Kaelana Faessler

This year, Middleton High School (MHS) had the privilege of hosting eight exchange students. These students came from multiple countries, including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy. In an interview, four exchange students reflected on their time in the United States, as well as their year at MHS.

For some students, the decision to join their exchange program was something they had planned a long time ago. Lola Clemenz, a junior from Mainz, Germany, had planned on taking a year abroad in America since she was young. Inspired by the exchange experience her mother had done in high school, Clemenz and her family always knew that she would do an exchange year in the United States once she was old enough.

However, some students chose this path in a more impulsive manner. Clara Klotz, a junior from Cottbus, Germany, was inspired to do a year abroad from a YouTube video she saw. Klotz reported thinking, “Hey, this looks cool, let’s ask dad.”

As plans became finalized for their year abroad, the exchange students all became anxious to find out their location assignments. Zara Van Rhijn, a junior from The Hague, Netherlands, hoped that she would be placed in a home in California. She also wanted to be on the coast, because she lived by the ocean back home. Despite being placed in a Midwestern state far from the ocean, Van Rhijn was not disappointed when she found out she would be living in Wisconsin. 

Sophie, who requested to omit her surname, lives near Munich, Germany. Although exchange students are normally placed in a house with a host family, Sophie was able to have a more unique experience. Sophie’s dad moved to the U.S. for work, and Sophie was able to come live with him for a year while she attended school at MHS.  

When the students finally reached the United States, they experienced a common side effect of traveling to another country: culture shock. From air conditioning in every building to the large sizes of everything, several of the students were surprised by unexpected differences between the U.S. and their home countries.

A shocking difference that the exchange students all noticed at the beginning of the school year was people carrying around lunch bags at school. “If you carried around a lunch bag at my school, you would get bullied,” Clemenz said. 

The exchange students were also in disbelief when they saw how much the United States valued convenience. Drive-thrus are rare in Europe, and according to the German exchange students, before their year abroad they had only encountered one Starbucks with a drive-thru. 

These stark differences between their home countries and the U.S. also became apparent in the classroom. All of the interviewees agreed that classes had far fewer tests, and that the curriculum was more “chill.” They also agreed on how the learning here is much more personal. 

“School here is so much more individual,” Clemenz said. “The teachers actually want you to have good grades.”

The students said at MHS it felt more like the teachers cared about individual needs. Klotz shared that she has dyslexia, and that in her schools back home she was rarely offered assistance when she struggled with assignments because of her learning disability. That being said, Klotz shared that she received help from teachers at MHS who helped her work through assignments when she was struggling. 

The close student-teacher relationships at MHS were another aspect of the exchange year that surprised students. Back home, they said that you would never hear about a teacher’s personal life at all. 

A difference between MHS and their other schools that the exchange students also enjoyed was the social atmosphere. At MHS, they felt like schedules allowed them to make friends in all grade levels and have the opportunity to meet and hang out with friends. Sophie said her favorite part of the day was lunch, as it was a time when she got to sit and talk with her friends.

MHS sports added to the social atmosphere. All four of the European natives, Sophie, Van Rhijn, Celemenz and Klotz played for the MHS JV White girls’ soccer team in the spring. Despite this being their first year playing the sport, all of them agreed that it was their favorite memory from their time at MHS, and they are sad the season was only two months long. 

These four weren’t the only exchange students on the team however, and not the only ones at MHS. The school hosted many students from different backgrounds, which allowed them to feel more included and create a more comfortable environment in the new school. There were others who understood what they were going through.

As their year at MHS is coming to an end, the students shared their plans for education once they return home. Because of the complicated German school system, Klotz, Sophie and Clemenz all have three more years of regular schooling to complete. Van Rhijn, however, will be heading off to college to study communications. 

When reflecting on the biggest things they have gained from this experience, they all agreed that the many different relationships they have formed while here will stay with them forever.

“I’ve made so many international friends,” Clemenz said. 

Some students became especially close with their host families. Klotz described hers as her “second family.”

Moreover, Sophie and Van Rhijn mentioned the social and intrapersonal skills they gained, including self-confidence and independence. Klotz said she realized she had become much more self-reliant: “somehow you survived a whole year in another country.”

MHS’s many exchange students this year contributed to the diverse community of people present within the school. Inviting students from foreign countries to learn here can create lasting relationships that cross borders and valuable experiences that will stay with them forever.