What’s it like here for our international exchange students?


Left to the right: Joana Ackerl, Lasse Pietschner and Ana Ferreira, from Austria, Germany and Brazil, celebrating their differences and getting to know others cultures. Photo Credit: Alli Calhoun

Getting to know a new culture personally and experiencing it in your daily life is a unique immersion to the customs of another country. The advancement of globalization around the world, the process of interaction and integration among people, companies and governments worldwide make it much easier than a few years ago. An example of this is the rise of exchange students the world.

Talking to Joana Ackerl, an AFS (American Field Service) exchange student from Austria, she said that her motivations to do an exchange were to have good experiences, get to know a new culture, learn better English and to make friends around the world.

Now that she has been in the United States for about one month, she is starting to adjust herself in this new chapter of her life. 

Everyday Ackerl has to deal with challenging situations and she considers the school as the hardest thing she had to deal with so far. 

“First day [of school] was okay, because it was all new. But, the second day, that one was hard, because it was just too much for me, the teachers were new, the language. I didn’t make any friends; I missed my family; I missed my country. So, it was all a little too much; it was the hardest thing for me,” said Joana. 

“Everything is bigger; the food is unhealthier, and, even if you can eat healthy, you’ve got so much fast food here,” stated Joana.

The education system is also different in Austria, including the fact that their college is free. But, about the way people interact with each other in her country, people here are more “open minded, outgoing,” which she considers to be a good thing. 

“In Austria, people are not that open to the other people, not that friendly. But, here, people are more open to new things, more interested in other cultures and all this kind of stuff,” Joana went on to say. 

To Ackerl, the language is not a problem. She has learned English for about five years now and she doesn’t really have an issue communicating with people. Joana thinks making friends is hard, but she considers telling others that she is an exchange student an icebreaker. 

“In the beginning is hard to talk to other people, there are so many groups and you can’t really talk to them because they all know each other and you feel like: ‘what am I doing here?’” said Joana.

But, after a month, she is learning how to deal with things, even if sometimes she doesn’t understand something or it is a little bit confusing. 

Joana said that what she misses the most are her family, friends and “maybe the school system.” She finds difficult to create effective bonds with people here, because everyone already knows each other.

Joana Ackerl doesn’t really consider a certain moment as the best one so far, but what she enjoys the most is spending time with her host family. She also likes to stay with some friends from school, even if she doesn’t consider herself really close to them. 

Left to right: Joana Ackerl and Ana Ferreira, exchange students from Austria and Brazil, enjoying their time thanks to the AFS and Rotary exchange program.
Photo Credit: Macey MacArthur

Despite all the challenges of being an exchange student, Joana shows determination to deal with her problems and learns everyday about this new culture, experiencing life in a totally different reality, far from everyone that she knows and loves.