Exchange Students Take a Year To Learn and Grow
Communities / May. 30, 2013 11:09am EDT
The world came to Randolph Union High School this year in the form of two friendly exchange students, 17-year-old Anja Mosimann of Switzerland, and Marie Porracchia of France, who turned 18 earlier this month.
Mosimann is here as an AFS exchange student, hosted by the Ken and Jill Roger family of Randolph Center. Her host sister Sarah Roger, who just completed her freshman year in college, was an exchange student in Switzerland three years ago.
Porracchia, a Rotary exchange student, has had three host families this year, as is typical with Rotary— Sonia Doppelhofer, Eric and Suzie Sakai, and, now, Ginny and Larry Richburg, all of Randolph.
Spending a school year so far away from family and friends is never easy, no matter how adaptable the student or welcoming the host community.
The two young women agreed in recent interviews that they are glad they took the plunge, despite that fact that both will have to complete an extra year of high school on their return home, as they will not be credited for this year’s studies in the U.S.
Anja Mosimann hails from Büsserach, a town of only 2500 in Germanspeaking Switzerland.
Although her home town is smaller than Randolph, Mosimann’s life is far more urban than the typical Central Vermonter’s. The city of Basel is an easy train ride away, and she and her friends go there one or twice a week.
Porracchia said she and her friends use the train to visit Paris on a regular basis. She lives in Saint-Fargeau Ponthierry, southwest of Paris and with a population of around 12,600. Paris, with all its wonders, is a 35-minute train ride away.
Mosimann and Porracchia admit that that they have missed the independence that public transportation systems provide.
“I was surprised—cars are so important here,” Mosimann said.
Porracchia said she was astonished to see so many trucks on U.S. highways, as freight is typically transported by rail in France.
Mosimann said she opted for a year abroad mostly to try something new: “I thought my life was kind of boring,” she said. “I wanted to see how other people live—if America is what other people say their experience of it is.”
Mosimann, who studied English, French, and “high German” at her Swiss school, has seen her English greatly improve this year. She characterized her schooling at home as more demanding than what she has experienced here. At home, for example, grammar is studied annually in all languages, including her native Swiss German.
In addition to attending classes at RUHS, Mosimann walks to Randolph Elementary School several mornings each week to assist in Mrs. MacBruce’s kindergarten class. She hopes to become a kindergarten teacher, she noted.
Mosimann also played basketball with the junior varsity team this winter, which was an all-new experience for the quiet-mannered teen, who names playing the piano as a favorite activity at home.
“Everyone was younger than I, and I was the worse one,” she said with a smile. “I never played before—I never played team sports before—so it was fun.”
The holidays are typically a tough time in the exchange year. Mosimann admitted that her personal low point was New Year’s Eve. Not only was there no night out with friends, but there was basketball practice the next day at 8 a.m.
However, she has built strong connections during her time here, and would just as soon stay beyond her June 24 departure date.
Mosimann said her exchange year has given her an appreciation for her everyday life in Switzerland.
“I am going to enjoy more my time with friends and family,” she said. “Now I know what I missed; I will appreciate it more.”
Time To Think
Marie Porracchia, like Mosimann, opted for an exchange year, because she “wanted to see different things.”
Another reason was that she wanted “an extra year” to think about what directions she might pursue after high school.
Until this year, Porracchia’s travels had been limited in Europe, including Italy, which is where her father’s family lives.
She also speaks multiple languages— French, Italian, English, and German—although she qualified that “I am supposed to speak German.”
In France, Porracchia attends school six days a week, with both Wednesdays and Saturdays halfdays. Classes are rigorous, with plenty of homework, and Porracchia has a one-hour train commute on either end of the school day, “So I don’t have a life,” she said wryly.
Still, she said she found people here to be more rushed, grabbing coffee and meals on the run, for example, and not taking the time for a relaxed, midday meal.
A competitive gymnast in France, Porracchia joined the track team this year, with the encouragement of host mom, Ginny Richburg, an RUHS math teacher and track coach.
To her astonishment, she broke two school records at “the first track meet in my life,” and and has continued to place and recordbreak in sprints, hurdle, and relay events.
Before returning home, Porracchia will travel this summer, including a Rotary-sponsored bus trip to the West Coast.
This year has had a few rough bumps, but Porracchia said she was never homesick. She found it helpful, she said to “really stay focused— to remind myself why I am here, when I miss my friends.”
Her year has changed her, Porrachia noted.
“I am more mature,” she reflected. “I feel more couragious and proud of myself—I was not before—and I am more open-minded.”
And, during the year, Porracchia has moved from confusion to anticipation about her future. Now, she said, she is aware of “so many opportunities—I have some new ideas.”