By David Klein
For a few eager, international students, spending a year at a high school in Tennessee is a great experience. Each year, many foreign students come to the U.S. to study for a year through an organization called the Education First Foundation.
The Education First Foundation (EFF) is the leader in high school exchange, bringing over 55,000 students since 1979. It is funded by the U.S. Department of State. Students involved in the program come from about 26 different countries.
Lendelle and Sue Clark first became coordinators back in 1985. Lendelle, Knoxville International Coordinator for EFF, said, “We went to the EFF Foundation because it was the largest and the best,” he said. He said one of the biggest challenges is keeping the kids safe. To that end, EFF has a comprehensive background check on their host families. “We do a criminal background check on the host families,” Clark said.
Clark said it just depends on how many students are in the program that determines which schools he sends them to. “I’ve got one in Bearden, two in Oliver Springs, one in Cleveland, two in West.”
The students met on Saturday, May 4 for the Re-entry Orientation, a mandatory meeting that happens about one month before the foreign exchange students’ departure. The first part of the meeting wrapped up the financial responsibilities of the students upon leaving. This would be bank accounts, phone bills, doctor bills, etc. “It’s just to make sure everything’s handled, make sure they have their ducks in a row,” Clark said. He also got them to write about their experiences here in the United States as a letter to themselves and also about what they are looking forward to going back home. Clark and the host families will mail the letters back to the students in two months to show them what they were thinking. Along with this, the students wrote letters of appreciation to teachers, host families, and friends. The second part of the meeting was to address how the students were coping with returning home. They also answered the question of what has your host family and school meant to you. Students also participated in a host family workshop in which students and their host families shared with each other about what they enjoyed about hosting their students and what parents and students will miss about each other.
Certificates of completion were awarded to the students during the orientation as well as certificates of appreciation to host families and schools from EFF.
In talking about their educational experience in the U.S., Clark said, “One thing they’ve noticed is how helpful the teachers are.” He also said the students he is hosting, Isabelle Cornelius, from Berlin, Germany, and Alison Werlen from Switzerland, are more advanced students than the American students. “Their schools are harder,” Clark said of European schools. However, the exchange students do not receive credit for their academic study in the United States. “When they go back, they have to make this year up,” Clark explained.
Cornelius, 17, is a junior attending West High School. She said she had been to the United States twice before. She described some frustrations with having to get rides everywhere she travels, as opposed to using public transit in Germany, which transports passengers most places.
As far as some of the American food Cornelius enjoys, she said she likes Chick-fill-A a lot. She mentioned cole slaw, sweet potatoes and corn as other dishes she liked over here.
When asked about her favorite classes, she said, “I like all of my classes.” She said there are classes here that she doesn’t get over in Germany; two of them are interior design and forensic science.
She traveled to New York and Washington D.C., and also has been to Orlando. “I’ve been to Chattanooga with the track team,” she added.
She said she liked talking to new people here, and that most people were friendly. She said that in Germany many people keep to themselves on the trains.
Cornelius participated in sports during the school year. “I used to play basketball for seven years,” but now she runs track. She runs the 100, 200, and 400, meter dashes. “It’s different for me being outside the whole time,” she said.
Cornelius has enjoyed her time here and wants to return. She’s made good friends with the U.S. students here. “One girl said she wants to come over next summer,” she said.
Another student, Alison Werlen, also stays with Clark and attends West High School as well. She is from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. She likes the friendly teachers that are more available to students. “They really care about us,” she said. “Back in Switzerland, they just teach,” she added.
Werlen said her experience here wasn’t too out of the ordinary. “It was pretty much what I expected,” she said of her expectations upon coming to the United States. “It’s exactly like we see in the movies,” she added.
She likes to play basketball and hang out with her friends when she’s in Switzerland. She also likes to hike a lot. This is her first time in the U.S., and she says she will head back home on June 1.
“In the beginning it was very hard,” she said, speaking of being homesick the first few weeks. “My host family helped me a lot,” she said, to help her get through it. “Now, I don’t want to leave.”
She would also like to travel to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. “I kinda want to go everywhere in the United States,” she emphasized. Werlen leaves June 1 to go back to Switzerland.
Both Cornelius and Werlen have enjoyed their time here and want to return to the United States. “I want to come back to college here,” Cornelius said. With the good experiences the international students have had in Tennessee, one may think that American students go over to Europe just as much. However, that’s not the case according to Clark. To his recollection, just one high school student from Knoxville has studied abroad since he has been coordinator.
The EFF always welcomes new host families for international students. For information about hosting an international exchange student, visit www.effoundation.org or contact Lendelle or Sue Clark 691-0627.