The international student experience

There are many students at West that come from varying countries. Several international students share their experiences living in the United States.

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Sara Baroncini

West High is home to a wide range of students varying in places of birth. For international students, being at West High entails getting accustomed to a new language and school system.

Imagine walking into a crowded hallway full of strangers laughing and talking among themselves. You do not know where your first period class is or how to ask for directions to get there. The strangers around you are speaking a completely different language that you are still in the process of learning. 

For some international students, this is similar to what their first day at West High looked like. Moving to a new school is usually a large feat for students, considering the changes in the environment and social life. Changing schools becomes even more difficult when that school is in an entirely new country. 

West High has many students from varying nationalities, many of whom have come to the school from far away. These students experience multiple distinct cultures, education systems and languages. 

For some, like Andres Fajardo ‘20 and Javier Reyes ‘21, going to West High entails learning English for the first time. Fajardo is no stranger to moving schools as he was born in Venezuela but ended up moving to Spain. He moved to Iowa in 2016 and found one of the largest difficulties was forming relationships with students from the United States due to the language barrier. 

“Not being able to speak English was at first a really big barrier in between me and the people from here,” said Fajardo. 

Reyes moved to Iowa in 2019 from Michoacan Mexico and believes that not knowing the language and trying to form friendships are some of the most difficult aspects of moving to a new country. 

“The hardest part [has] been to make friends, [and] the easiest is to get used to the difference about school,” said Reyes. 

For Fajardo, not being fluent in English at first made it so that he could only communicate and make bonds with other foreigners and building relationships with other students was a challenge.

It was more difficult to make friends here than  it was in Spain and Venezuela, sometimes I couldn’t relate to what people were talking and laughing about”

— Andres Fajardo '20

“It was more difficult to make friends here than  it was in Spain and Venezuela, sometimes I couldn’t relate to what people were talking and laughing about,” said Fajardo. 

Other international students do not find the language to be the largest change, but still note some changes in culture and the education system. 

Schianchi went to school in five different countries in Europe: Italy, Prague, Bruxelles, Bucharest and Geneva. Her first language was Italian, but through her education she learned French and English before moving to the United States. 

Because Schianchi learned English before moving, she did not find that to be the biggest difficulty. For her, the differences in the school system were the hardest to become accustomed to. She went to an international school where multiple languages were taught and they functioned on an alternating class schedule where there were A and B days. 

“I found it very hard at first to be assigned homework and bring it in the next day,” said Schianchi. 

Fajardo also has found the school system to be a change, but in a different way. He is accustomed to studying at a school of 400 students, which is quite smaller than West High.

Despite the difference in amount of students, Fajardo has had good experiences at the school.

The relationship I [have] had with teachers here has been more positive than my prior experiences”

— Andres Fajardo '20

“The relationship I [have] had with teachers here has been more positive than my prior experiences,” said Fajardo.

Along with differences in school size came differences in community size as a whole. All three agree that there were smaller communities in the countries they lived in before the United States. The difference in number of people is yet another change that many international students at West High face. 

In Mexico you know every single person […] that lives in the same block that you do”

— Javier Reyes '21

“In Mexico you know every single person … that lives in the same block that you do,” said Reyes.

While Reyes’ experience with a smaller community came from his time living in Mexico, Schianchi’s stemmed from her most recent home in Geneva and her time spent in other countries in Europe.

“Geneva is way smaller and more chaotic, most of Europe is much smaller,” said Schianchi. 

Although getting accustomed to a new language, custom, school, and social life is no easy task, these students have been finding their place in Iowa. Over time, learning English, making friends, and getting used to the school became a little easier. 

I like living in the USA, it’s a little bit of a change, in Europe it’s mostly the same all around. I love Europe though and I want to go back for sure sometime”

— Martina Schianchi '20

“I like living in the USA, it’s a little bit of a change, in Europe it’s mostly the same all around. I love Europe though and I want to go back for sure sometime,” said Schianchi.