Stepping onto new land
The aspiring student writers who are part of our 2017-18 Student Writers Advisory Group (SWAG) were chosen by staff after applying to be a part of a team of unique voices — our eyes and ears to what's important to youth in the community.
SWAG is comprised of students from Lake Oswego High School, Lakeridge High School and West Linn High School. Each bring a unique perspective to varying topics each month.
During the month of November, SWAG decided to broaden their horizons and speak with people who are new to the area. They chose to interview people with varying cultural backgrounds, whether that be family or exchange students. They wanted to implement a cultural focus to uncover what differences people saw coming to America, especially living in our communities.
Here's the experiences these student writers uncovered:
A Norwegian view
Emily Haraldsen came to America looking to experience a new place outside of her hometown of Sandefjord, Norway. The 17-year-old has found nothing short of an adventure since first arriving in America four months ago. Emily describes her experiences in America — from the amazing food she has gotten to indulge in, to exploring Portland — as incredible.
One of the most fascinating observations Emily has made involves the "small talk" that Americans grow up accustomed to. Not only small talk, but our tendencies to greet everyone we encounter.
"People say hi all the time, and they're very happy," Emily said. "We don't say hi to each other (in Norway.) It sounds weird, but we don't."
In Norway, and many other European countries, small talk is an interesting concept. If there is nothing important to say, then nothing is said. While Emily sees this as making people seem friendly, it also makes people seem fake.
"Many people seem to be very nice, and they say, 'Oh, let's hang out,' or 'We want to do that,' and then you don't do it," Emily said. "It's just polite to say those things."
Something that Americans do to be polite is actually seen by many as being insincere and therefore, impolite. Despite the small talk, Emily has nothing she dislikes about America. During her time in America, Emily has come to regard Americans as joyful, but what she really enjoys is the diversity in personalities she has found here. Emily looks forward to the rest of her time in America and the new things she can experience.
— Nina Heidgerken,
senior at Lakeridge High school
Terry Dai and Ronan Chen moved from China two years ago. Terry is from Qingdao, and Ronan from Beijing. They've both learned many new things since they moved to Lake Oswego.
When Terry first came to LOHS, he discovered the school itself was very big, especially the football and baseball fields. He's also found relief in the air conditioning here. Terry remembers that his old school only had one small fan in his classroom.
School is a lot more focused on sports and clubs here, both students said.
"In China, they just put all their time into studying," recounts Ronan.
The social structure of school in Lake Oswego is also different. The juniors are mostly friends with juniors, the seniors with seniors, and so on, which creates a barrier bewwtween the classes.
For these two Chinese students, learning English was not fun. Terry saw grammar as being the most challenging part. Ronan disagreed, citing vocabulary to be the most difficult. It was definitely a little hard for them to get used to LO at first. Moving to a new place, they had to meet new friends, and become familiarized with the different systems. It was an entirely new experience.
As for the city itself, Ronan describes how LO is not a city where you can walk everywhere. Instead, people have to drive. Even going to the store requires a car.
Terry also notes that LO isn't much of a lively atmosphere at night.
He says, "There's no people on the streets after..."
"Nine or 10," Ronan inputs.
"...8," Terry said.
They both laugh, concluding that the streets are empty even at six.
In reality, Ronan admits it is a bit boring here. People go to school, home, school, and back to home again. There isn't much change. In China, Terry explains that people would go to school, go out and then go home. They'd first spend time with friends before heading home.
These two do not hesitate to say what they miss the most: the food. Here, the food is completely different. But overall, they really like it here in LO. They think it's nice, and a quiet, safe place to stay.
— Olivia Weng,
a junior at Lake
Oswego High School
A Spanish view
Cristina Fernandez was thrown into American life last June when her family moved from Madrid, Spain to Lake Oswego. At age 15, Fernandez entered a new school, culture and most importantly, weather.
"It rains so much here," said Fernandez.
While the rain may be the most noticeable change in her life, it certainly isn't the only one. Fernandez had trouble acclimating to Lake Oswego High School, specifically the classroom organization.
"In my old school we stayed in one class the whole day, and the teachers came in, instead of us going from class to class," Fernandez said. "(And) people don't care so much about sports and school spirit in Spain."
Fernandez also noticed cultural differences outside of the classroom. The most immediate one was the language barrier. As a native Spanish speaker, Fernandez initially had difficulty speaking only English. But after some hard work, she says she's made progress.
"It was harder to understand people in the beginning and also to be understood, but now it's way easier," Fernandez said.
But while the language barrier could be overcome, the food barrier could not. Fernandez is not impressed with American food.
"The food here is way worse than Spanish food," Fernandez said. "I tried to find places that sold [Spanish food] but it's not the same."
Ultimately, Fernandez has enjoyed the experience, even relishing in what others might see as challenges.
"The best part has been discovering a new culture and learning a new language. Also, meeting new people has been really fun," Fernandez said.
What should visitors to her home country plan on seeing?
"They should definitely go to Madrid or Barcelona and go to all the museums, palaces, churches. Also, have lots of Spanish paellas, tortillas and tapas, they're great," Fernandez said. "And enjoy the weather too."
— Joe Lantow,
senior at Lake Oswego High School
Lakeridge High School junior Carey Parker moved here this year from Dunfermline, Scotland, a town slightly larger than Lake Oswego.
"I didn't know anybody here before moving here, it was quite scary," said Parker.
Her family made the move because of her dad's job in the solar power industry.
While her Scottish accent is strong, Parker sometimes finds it challenging to understand Americans.
"The weirdest thing at first was hearing American accents, especially when I talked with a girl from the South," Parker said.
One of the biggest challenges she faced this year was adjusting to the American school system. In Parker's opinion, she believes education here is a lot better than in Scotland, but also a lot more stressful.
"There is a lot more work here. In Scotland, I received extremely little homework, there was practically no stress," Parker said. "I had friends who said it was a huge shock going from high school to college in Scotland, whereas they definitely prepare you more here."
Her initial expectations for entering Lakeridge were that it would match the typical Hollywood movie style, where there would be loads of school spirit and a large focus on football. After attending her first Pacer game, she told me that, "In the movies you see a huge wild crowd, but luckily it wasn't too crazy. Coming from a school where you wear a uniform every day however, I'm impressed by how much school spirit there is within Lakeridge."
While walking around the Lakeridge 'doughnut' — the circular path that connects each of the school departments — during a passing period, people would most likely spot about one out of every eight students wearing Pacer gear, whether it be a team jersey, jacket, a pink Pacer breast cancer awareness T-shirt, or even a bold Lakeridge "L," patriotically filled in with the pattern of the American flag.
Parker says she would have liked more assistance adjusting to the curriculum at the start of school as an international newcomer.
This year, she is looking forward to growing as a student, and is challenging herself in classes such as AP English.
She also enjoys sharing the Scottish culture.
"A lot of people have asked me if I wear a kilt and if I really am from Scotland," Parker said.
Girls don't wear kilts, and the only time men in her family wear kilts is during traditional celebrations like weddings or formal dances in Scotland.
One way to know for sure Parker is a true Scot is her longing for traditional foods.
"I miss the food from Scotland a lot, like haggis — sheep's stomach — which is a very famous Scottish food, you have it for breakfast... and your chocolate here is terrible," Parker said.
She will be thankful to hear some strong Scottish accents again.
— Claire Petersen,
junior at Lakeridge High School
A French view
Jeanne Pinchancourt, a senior exchange student at Lake Oswego High School, was born in the suburbs of Lyon, France, and has been living in Lake Oswego for half a year. As an exchange student, she enjoys traveling and meeting people from around the world.
Her host family, as she describes it, "is perfect. They are patient, loving...and lovable." For Pinchancourt, moving to Lake Oswego wasn't a huge culture shock.
"I had already been FaceTiming my host family, getting to know them and the environment I would be spending a year in," Pinchancourt explained. "My hosts also had the opportunity to come to France and spend time with me a couple months ago, which was really great."
Moving away from home for a year presents its challenges, but Pinchancourt takes them in stride.
"When you're far away from your parents, you get to learn how to be more responsible. I'm here officially as an exchange student, but it's more about the experience," Pinchancourt said.
In addition, she has set personal objectives for herself.
"I'm here to get to know a different culture...to become more open-minded and mature," she said. "Based on my experiences, I have realized that I love people even more than I thought I did. I want to get to know myself better. I believe that when you understand yourself, it lets you understand others."
Noting the differences between her home and Lake Oswego, Pinchancourt said, "There are a bunch of little things that you don't really notice until they have changed. The school system here, for example, gives students more freedom. There are a lot more choices of which classes you can take. In France there is an even stronger emphasis on the strict, academic side of the curriculum."
When considering her plans for the future, Pinchancourt said she wants to work with people from all around the world.
"I cannot imagine myself going back [to France]," Pinchancourt said. "I love French culture, but it's not enough for me now."
Lastly, Pinchancourt revealed that "the environment here is really supportive, and it's all that I can ask for. I'm having the best year of my life."
— Andrea Yang,
Lake Oswego High School
A Chilean view
It's a frighteningly cold day, even by Oregon's standards, and the students stumble down the hill to buy lunch from the stores beneath West Linn High School. My lunchmates hold their coats over their faces, seeking a reprieve from the deluge.
For exchange students from warmer climates, the shock of Oregon weather has been a less than pleasant surprise. Senior Mabel Balboni-Perez, from Chile, shouts as she steps into a puddle of water.
"It's so horrible," Balboni-Perez says.
In Chile, it's summer now and the temperatures reach around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sophomore Jacob Merino, from Spain, glances up at the grey sky.
"It's very different from Spain," Merino says, adding that WLHS looks like a mountain.
Balboni-Perez is incredibly excited about her exchange at WLHS.
"It's a whole new, different world," Balboni-Perez says. "It's High School Musical in real life."
Merino notes that the school's schedule is different from the system in Spain.
"Here, we end school at 3 p.m.," Merino says. "In Spain, we end at 5 p.m. — two more hours. I like it here better."
There are parts of the school day that are less than great though. In Chile, Balboni-Perez says students stay in one classroom and the teachers switch at the end of each period. At WLHS, the crowded hallways during passing time have been a little overwhelming for Balboni-Perez.
"It's horrendous," Balboni-Perez said."I'm too short for all that. I get kicked (and) pushed."
Merino takes a bite of his sandwich.
"The food here, I love the food," Merino says.
"Everything is so much bigger. Big french fries here (versus) big french fries in Chile," says Balboni-Perez, holding her hands apart to demonstrate the difference in size. "And soda. Your soda is like this," she says, stacking two cups on top of one another.
Both Merino and Balboni-Perez are big soccer fans. Merino got the chance to practice with the school JV2 team. He says it was an "incredible experience."
"I love the soccer of this country. My favorite sport is soccer," Merino says, noting that the time zone difference makes watching Spanish matches a little complicated.
As we prepare to brave the rain again, Merino gives the final word.
"This is the best experience, but the worst thing is, I really miss my family and friends," Merino says.
— Wallace Milner,
junior at West Linn High School
A Los Angelino's view
The often exciting but scary experience of moving to a different place is unique for everyone, but many would agree that leaving behind the glamour of a big city for a small town like Lake Oswego, Oregon would be somewhat of a downgrade.
For junior Kenna McIlraith, however, the transition into Lake Oswego High School has brought new opportunities and a sense of freedom from the pressures of Los Angeles' harsher society, noting that people in Lake Oswego are much less concerned with appearances and fame.
Having moved four times in her life because of her father's career as a pastor, McIlraith said, "No matter how many times I have started at a new school, it never gets any easier and I was terrified walking in on the first day."
But her transition into Lake Oswego has been an especially easy one for her, mainly because of the welcoming way the people have embraced McIlraith, her parents and her siblings. By connecting with certain groups in the community, such as the Lake Grove Presbyterian Church where her father is now the head pastor, her family's experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
"We immediately felt right at home in Lake Oswego," explained her father, Mark McIlraith. "These people feel like family to us already, through the warmth and the culture and the open arms we've experienced."
At school, Kenna quickly got involved with musical theater and choir and easily integrated into a new friend group. Her talents have landed her in the A Capella Choir and as the female understudy for "The Drowsy Chaperone," opportunities the she said have been a privilege to experience, especially as someone brand new to the community.
For someone as talented as McIlraith, it seems like she could have easily had similar experiences everywhere, but according to her experiences, "It was easier to get involved in the things I love after being here a week than it was after being in California for three years."
Considering how intimidating it would be to find out you were moving right before your junior year of high school, it is inspiring to see how involved McIlraith is in the community and how quickly she has found her place in our school. We are very happy to have McIlraith and her family, and it seems that the feeling is mutual.
— Erica Chiang,
junior at Lake Oswego High School
Alfonso Gonzalez-Chacon fits right into Lake Oswego, so it is hard to tell that he has only lived here for a few months. A sophomore from a small Spanish town, he decided to immerse himself in American culture through the exchange student program at Lake Oswego High School.
The first day at LOHS was difficult since he was not used to listening to English for an entire day, but over the course of two to three weeks, both his understanding and fluency of the foreign language became much easier. Now, he said the difficulty is only with writing.
"People are really kind to exchange students, and not just the host families," Chacon said.
"I don't have many cultural differences with my host family because they are similar to my family in Spain, so there aren't many issues there."
According to Chacon, his schedule is also similar. In Spain, he would start his day around 8 a.m. and return from school around 2:30 p.m. But in the middle of his school day, he would come home for lunch and then return to school for the second half of his classes. This break, however, is not to be confused with a "siesta," which is Spanish for nap.
"We don't usually take naps during weekdays," he said.
He also discussed the differences in education systems.
"In America, you can pick the subjects you want based on the level you are," Chacon said, referencing his accelerated chemistry — formerly called honors chemistry — and advanced algebra classes. "(And) the school also doesn't have buses to take kids home, so a lot of people walk."
Also vastly different is class structure between the two schools.
"In Spain, you are in the same class with the same kids all your life, so you know fewer people, but you feel more comfortable with those people," Chacon said.
At his school in Spain, there are two classes within each grade; each class contains about 25 students. "The first two years of the high school are run by the state, but the last two years are private, so it's semi-private," he said.
Chacon added that school in Lake Oswego is more of a "center of meeting."
"School in America is more a place to have fun. For example, how there are so many sports here," Chacon said. "In Spain, if you play a sport, you play outside of the school."
Chacon and his younger brother, Angel, love to play tennis. He hopes to join the high school team this year.
— Penelope Spurr,
sophomore at Lake Oswego High School
An Indian view
My grandparents have lived in India for almost all their life, until recently. Aside from occasional trips to visit my mother and uncle, my grandparents rarely had extended stays in the United States. However, approximately two years ago, my grandparents made the decision to apply for U.S. citizenship and began staying in the U.S. for six months at a time. Having come from a completely different society and culture, my grandparents have seen many differences between Bengaluru, India and Lake Oswego.One of the most basic differences between the two places is the language. In Bengaluru, most people speak Kannada and a little bit of Tamil — my grandparents' native tongue. Because of this, my grandparents have had to adjust by learning the English language. My grandfather noted that learning the actual language is not the hard part.
"Being able to comprehend an American accent is the hardest for me," my grandfather said. However, the language barrier is also restricting. In India, my grandparents are able to freely communicate with others, but here they require a little assistance.
My grandmother noted the difference between mobility in the two places.
"In India, everything is very close, within walking distance," she told me. "Even if something is a little far, we can easily take an auto."
My grandmother is referring to three-wheeled vehicles that are common in India, which roam on the roads and serve as taxis. She said in India, they can easily go to places, however in Lake Oswego, because of the distance between my home, stores and other locations, they are dependent on being driven by one of my parents. My grandfather still pointed out that he found it much easier
to travel without a car in India than in America.
These are only a couple of the many differences that my grandparents have witnessed between Bengaluru and Lake Oswego. But there are many more, such as clothing and cuisine. Many of these differences are because of climate differences my grandfatherobserves. Overall, my grandparents are experiencing a culture vastly different from their own that they are unaccustomed to.
— Karthik Sreedhar,
junior at Lakeridge High School
Last year, Paris Dailey was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At Dailey's school, there were less than 200 students. According to Dailey, the school had no lacrosse or football team. There was not even a gym at Dailey's school. Considering the small population of Dailey's school, everyone knew everyone. Then, Dailey, a current senior, moved to Oregon and started attending Lake Oswego High School.
In contrast to Dailey's old school, LOHS included many more students. Of course, having so many students meant not knowing everyone.
"I think the thing that threw me for a loop more than anything has been the sheer number of students at LOHS and how hard it is to get to know people like I did in my smaller school," Dailey said.
Even though LOHS is not nearly as big as other high schools in the country, it does make up for that through afterschool activities. On the other hand, Dailey's former school and LOHS shared the same workload.
Furthermore, Dailey commented that her "new student/freshman day" helped her find her way around the school and "make friends more quickly."
Dailey also added that she felt more comfortable about her transition to a new school when she met exchange students.
"I was able to meet all of the exchange students and I figured that if these exchange students had the bravery to come to a school like myself, but also a new country, which made me feel like things would be okay," Dailey said.
Overall, despite not knowing everyone at LOHS, Dailey has classmates with the same experiences she had when switching schools. In familiarity to all schools, the students at Dailey's new school can share similar stories without having to be companions.
— Lily DeVine,
sophomore at Lake Oswego High School