Carmel High School’s student body has been joined by three foreign exchange students, girls from around the world here now for anywhere from a half semester to a full year.
Sophie Barthels and Hannah Matthiesen, both sophomores, are from the cities of Cologne and Hamburg, Germany, respectively. Eduarda Perdoná Sant’Anna, who goes by Duda, is a junior from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
All three girls express that they are extremely lucky to be able to come to Carmel. Barthel’s number one choice for her study abroad program was a place in California, and she can’t believe she got her first choice from the highly competitive program.
Matthiesen explains how she was chosen for Carmel.
“We weren’t allowed to choose [where we went in the U.S.],” she says. “I was really lucky. I wanted to come to the ocean because I love the ocean. We live three hours away but don’t go very often in Germany.”
In regards to education, adjusting to the U.S. academic system has been difficult for these exchange students. Their hardest classes are those which feature new technical terms or units. Math classes, with the unknown units and curriculum, and anatomy classes, with difficult terminology, are their main examples. The conversion of metric to U.S. measurements has been especially challenging.
“The units are so confusing,” Barthels notes. “I can only talk about [them] in Chemistry class because they use Celsius,”
During most of the girls’ free time, they can be found exploring and learning about new places with friends or with their host families. When asked about how she spends her time outside of school, Sant’Anna jokingly answers, “What free time?”
For all three students, English has been a part of their education for many years. Barthels has been taking English for six years and is in a bilingual class that covers politics, biology and other topics. Matthiesen has been learning English since 6 years old, plays the piano in Germany and is taking junior classes for the one semester she is in Carmel. She notes a difference between the people and appearance of the U.S. compared to Germany.
“The people are a little different,” she observes, “because no matter where you go people are always asking, ‘How are you’?” This is something she appreciates and that has helped her adjust to life in another country.
Matthiesen has also been getting used to the different natural environment here in California.
“The landscape is very different,” she says. “It is more brownish here. In Germany, it rains more often and is greener.”
While she does not follow American sports in Germany, Matthiesen does keep up to date with American politics and finds this time of the year fascinating with the impending election. She is currently part of the CHS tennis team and has two sisters back in Germany along with her parents.
In the second largest city of Germany, Matthiesen explains that she sees lots of rain and it’s not very warm. They have a few weeks of summer but it’s nothing like here, she notes. She notices that U.S. schools take sports much more competitively through her involvement with the cross country team.
Sant’Anna has two older siblings, 19 and 24, and has dreamed of participating in an exchange program like this. She also echoes Matthiesen’s view on American sports.
“Here the school journey is heavier, but my classes in Brazil are more specified,” Sant’Anna notes. “It’s a balance. Here you take sports way more seriously than we do. You have a lot of clubs and everybody has something of their interest to be part of. And that’s really cool. We don’t have that in my school.”
She was surprised with the people in America, expecting people to not be as friendly or outgoing.
“Usually other countries have this view that America is stubborn or barring,” Sant’Anna observes, “but everybody has been so kind and cheerful and excited for me.”
“Everyone is so open minded!” exclaims Matthiesen, jokingly adding, “But this isn’t ‘High School Musical.’”