Life as an American for a year

This year, Cam High’s student body includes seven students who have come to study abroad from their home countries of Germany, Italy, and France. Here is a look into their experiences so far.

Svea Geisler, senior:

Svea Geisler is a 16-year-old student from a suburb of Hamburg, Germany. According to Geisler, school days in California are unlike those in Germany. “The schedule is different here. You have your same schedule every day, but in Germany you have your schedule for the week, so every day is different”, said Geisler. She also noted that American teachers conduct themselves with distinct personas. “Teachers are more distant in Germany. You can see it’s their job, but, here, you can tell the teachers like being teachers.”

Svea Geisler, senior

Up to this point, Geisler’s favorite part of Cam High has been her involvement with ASB Renaissance, a student government class. She was particularly excited to be on Cam High Connect, the weekly morning announcement video broadcast to all Cam High students.

Outside of school, Geisler is also looking forward to various other experiences in California. “I have been to Sequoia National Park, and I will go to Six Flags, Disneyland, and Legoland” said Geisler.  Her host family is very active in comparison to her family in Germany, she said, but fortunately, she enjoys being on the move. “I like to play tennis, or we just go and visit places,” she said.

Geisler’s choice to become an exchange student was, in part, motivated by her eagerness to see the world. “I wanted to travel after graduating, but right now, I still have to do three more years of school in Germany, and I got bored, so I decided to go now.”  

Geisler has an older brother and also enjoys spending time with her two younger host sisters.

Alessia Capra, senior:

Alessia Capra, 16, from Milan, Italy, faced some hardships when she arrived to the U.S. “The first weeks were really hard because I think that by senior year, people already have a group of friends, so it’s difficult to make new friends,” said Capra. She struggled to overcome the language barrier the first week or so of class. “Now I can understand better, but I think you all speak very very quickly, so it was hard, but eventually it got easier.”

Capra said that her favorite part of campus is the football field. “I’m taking cross country, and I like to run around the field.”

Alessia Capra, junior
Alessia Capra, senior

Capra is no stranger to the sights of Southern California, having already visited LA, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Malibu and San Diego. She has not, however, visited Disneyland , but looks forward to going later this year for her host mom’s birthday.

Capra is still getting used to the differences between Italy and the U.S. “[In Italy,] you have 30 classmates and you keep them all five years of high school,” she said. “It is easier to make friends because you can see them all the time.”

In addition to academic life, family life has also been a change. “I have two little siblings here, but at home, I have one older sister who is 21,” said Capra, who is not used to constantly being around young children but thoroughly enjoying the experience thus far.

Despite the many differences between her native home and her home abroad, the way Capra spends her free time is similar to many of her Cam High peers. “I usually hang out with some friends or visit new places like the beach, or go shopping.”

Capra is extremely grateful to have been able to come to California. “I never dreamed to have this opportunity[…] this is an opportunity that happens once in a lifetime. I love it. You can improve your English, and you can live abroad for one year, so you can grow up with much!”    

Benjamin Coquard, senior:

Benjamin Coquard has been in the U.S. for about three weeks, but he has already found contentment in his new environment. “There is a beautiful ocean, high school, and girls,” said Coquard, a 17 year old senior from Montpellier, France. “I am very happy and lucky to be in California.”

Coquard appreciates how short Cam High’s days are compared to the days in France. “[School in France] is more strict and not cool, because you finish it at 17:00 (5:00 pm), so you have less free hours in the day.” Coquard enjoys helping out the French class and participating in the wrestling program something he could not do in France, as his local high school does not offer sports.

Benjamin Coquard, senior
Photo by: Serena Sotelo

Coquard came to the U.S. to study English and Spanish. “I wanted to learn English by doing 10 months here, and I am [staying with a] family that speaks Spanish.” He is also here to prepare himself for his future college experiences that necessitate strong English skills. “After my stay in the U.S, I want to go to a university in France that is difficult- that is really hard because of the competition,” Coquard said.

In his free time, Coquard spends time reading and playing with his younger host sisters, and remains active by practicing tennis, wrestling, and slack-line tightrope, a hobby he developed two years ago.

 Gaia Oddera, senior:

Gaia Odera, senior
Photo by: Serena Sotelo

Gaia Oddera, 17 is a senior from Genova, Italy. Her experience in America has been a pleasant one thus far, but she is still adjusting to the many changes. “Everything is very new for me. The people are so nice, but I don’t have [any] good friends here, because school has just started, but I really enjoy the place. I love the piers so much,” said Oddera.

Cam High is also completely different from school in Italy, according to Oddera. “It’s totally different. [In Italy,] we have one class we stay in for six periods. The maximum [number of] students is 28, so we have the same 28 people that we stay with all the time and our teacher comes. You get really close to the people in your class.” The relationship between students and teachers is also very formal compared to the U.S. “We have to stand up when the teacher comes, the teacher calls us by our last name, not by our [first] names.”

Oddera is very relieved that she is comfortable in her home in the U.S. “My host family is really nice, and I really get along with them, and my host mom is really like a mom.”

In her free time, Oddera likes to keep in shape and have fun with friends. “In Italy, we have a lot of parties, so I enjoy going out and that kind of stuff. I play golf, and I go to the gym four times a week.” Oddera has been to Disneyland, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Universal Studios, but her favorite California trip so far has been her time at Lake Elsinore with other exchange students.

Improving her language and gaining cultural awareness is extremely important to Oddera, but she also had a few other reasons for coming to the U.S. “I really wanted to have a new experience, improve myself, and grow up. I think this was the best way to do that,” she said. “I’ve learned [to] enjoy the time with people we love because when we are far from home, we maybe understand that the little moments we had with them, that we don’t really care about normally, are the most important.”

Lara Fichtner, junior:

Lara Fichtner, 15, has journeyed from a small city outside of Hamburg, Germany called Brande-Hörnerkirchen and appreciates the school spirit exhibited at Cam High. “We don’t have stuff like that in Germany, which is really sad,” said Fichtner.

Lara Fichtner, junior
Photo by: Sarah Wortman

Fichtner’s host family is much larger than her family in Germany. She shares her American home with four siblings and many pets. “I really love both families and I feel really at home here,” she said. Like the other German exchange students, Fichtner agreed that teachers at Cam High are much more friendly and personable than those at her old high school. “In Germany, the teachers are higher [in status]. Here, it’s more equal,” she said. Fichtner felt she could speak to her American teachers about almost anything, a freedom which she did not enjoy with her teachers in Germany. In terms of curriculum, Fichtner said that she thought classes in Germany were generally more difficult than classes at Cam High, with the exception of mathematics.

After hearing about her sister’s exchange experiences, Fichtner was inspired to study abroad herself. “At first, I only wanted to go for three months to Britain because it was close, and not so long, but I read more stuff about different programs, and […] at last, I decided to go to America for 10 months.”

Initially, Fichtner struggled to open up to her peers, fearing that people may not be interested in her or what what she had to say. Eventually, however, she found a way to overcome her shyness. “You have to be open and just talk to people,” said Fichtner. “Just start talking!”

Fichtner said her time in America thus far has been an exciting one, and she has already visited LA and watched first baseball game. On the weekends, she enjoys going to the movies and attending football games with her friends.

Matthias Collenberg, sophomore:

Matthias Collenberg, bringing with him a growing interest in American culture and the English language, came to Cam High from Krombach, Germany. “I had always wanted to visit America,” he said, “but I would never want to live in America. Germany is my home.”

Matthias Collenberg, sophomore
Matthias Collenberg, sophomore

The transition from learning in Germany to learning in the United States was exhausting at first, but after approximately a week, Collenberg grew accustomed. “I like all my classes except U.S. History, because it is very difficult for me. There are too many English words I don’t know, like in terms of politics, which I don’t know very much about,” he said. “My favorite class is German. Frau Kuehn is very nice to me and so are the kids in German class.”

Though his time in America has been pleasant so far, Collenberg missed some of the unique aspects of his native home— namely, the food. “I miss Doenner,” he said. “It’s like bread with lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, zucchini, and lamb meat. I also miss my dog and my friends, but I don’t miss the bad weather.”

Collenberg is a fan of movies and Netflix. After his visit to Los Angeles, he is looking forward to go to Las Vegas later this year and hoping to visit San Diego and San Francisco in the future.

Jonathan Rönnebeck, senior:

A native of Groningen in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, foreign exchange student, Jonathan Rönnebeck enrolled at Cam High to improve his English and broaden his perspective. “America is one of the most multicultural [countries] in

Jonathen Rönnebeck, senior
Jonathen Rönnebeck, senior

the world,” he said.

Rönnebeck likes his motorcycle, friends, family, bed, and parties. Additionally, he also enjoys the warm California weather and Cam High’s school spirit.

Chun-Tzu Huang contributed to this story.