Learning a foreign language can be an arduous but rewarding process. Senior Isabelle Amon, who has studied French since seventh grade, decided to spend a year at at the school Lycée Montgrand school in Marseilles, France to immerse herself in the language and culture.

According to Amon, her choice to study abroad wasn’t the result of any particular event or sudden decision.

“I think it just [came] from me being really, really curious about the world,” Amon said.

When recalling her initial reaction upon arriving in France, Amon describes a shift in feelings.

“[At first I was] on such a big high,” Amon said. “Then after two weeks [I thought], ‘What did I do. I don’t have friends and I don’t know this language.’ But then after a while [I got] into the swing of things.”

Amon was one of many participants in an international exchange program by the American Field Service (AFS) Intercultural Programs. During her stay, Amon lived with a host family, assigned to her by AFS.

“I had my older host brother who was 19 and had already finished school, and then my little brother who was eight,” Amon said. “He was my favorite person in the whole world.”

Furthermore, Amon’s expectations completely differed than reality.

“[I had] this impression that everything was going to be really different, but everything [I expected] to be different [was] the same and everything [I expected] to be the same [was] different,” Amon said.

According to Amon, French schools, are significantly less interactive and kinesthetically centered than Paly.

“Schools there are really old-fashioned,” Amon said. “When you go into class, the ideal is that you sit there and you take notes and you don’t really do anything.”

However, keeping up with the language was easy to do in a school setting.

“The teachers use the kind of language you learn in school, because they use proper grammar and big words that translate easily between French and English,”

Amon said. “It’s outside of class where it’s harder to understand.”

Enhancing a language that one already knows is not the only reason that Paly students study internationally. Senior Krista Flagg studied at a school called

Max-Planck Gymnasium in Delmenhorst, Germany for a year without knowing any German, having been inspired from living in Spain in seventh grade.

Last spring, Flagg’s family hosted Austrian exchange student. After learning about her Austrian exchange student’s experiences abroad, Flagg decided to participate in an exchange program.

“I thought if [my Austrian student] could do it in high school then maybe I could as well,” Flagg said.

Flagg’s international studies were also a part of AFS, and she too was assigned to a random host family.

“I had two host brothers, which was different because I had never had brothers before,” Flagg said. “One of my brothers was in the grade below me, so we went to the same school.”

Like Amon, Flagg recalls the difficulty in adjusting to a new culture that slowly disappeared over time.

“It was hard to get used to a new family,” Flagg said. “Everyone would be in their room doing their own thing with the door closed, so I got concerned about being rude and I [thought], ‘Oh no, do they not like me?’ [I learned later that] that’s just how Germans are. By the end I was used to it.”

In preparation for her trip, Flagg studied German for a week, in attempt to keep up with the fast-paced language, which was difficult to learn at first, according to Flagg.

Flagg also noticed the absence of school-oriented routines in Germany

“[In Palo Alto] everything is focused on school — sports are school, outside activities are school,” Flagg said. “[In Germany]  everything is separate. You go to school and then you hang out with friends more and they don’t really have as much stress as we do. ”

Flagg was also introduced to other culture from international exchange students from places like Latin America, South Africa and Malaysia.

These experience inspired bothFlagg and Amon to see value in exploring and learning about foreign countires and culture

“Being in a situation where you feel totally out of your element  just teaches you so much about yourself and it makes you more confident,” Amon said.

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