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A school year abroad in the US – An interview with Despina Magouliou

At the beginning of the school year Despina Magouliou – who had passed a school year abroad in the USA – met our class 8d to answer questions about the exchange. She is currently a student of KS1 and is about to prepare for her Abitur in 2021.

- 8d: Where exactly did you spend your exchange year?
Despina: In Palo Alto, California.

- What school did you go to? Was it a public or private school? How many students go to this school?
I went to the Palo Alto High School. It is a public school, but also is considered as a private one, because it is a very privileged school. The school has around 2000 students.

- How is the school organized? Did you choose certain subjects or did you have mandatory subjects? What subjects did you have?
The American school system differs from ours. The school week has odd and even days. On odd days you have the first, third and fifth period and on even days the second, forth and sixth period. Which means that students only have three subjects per day, but one class lasts 90 minutes. Every student chooses six subjects per semester. English, Maths and Physics are mandatory subjects for 11th graders and in addition my exchange organization made me take US History. Furthermore, I chose Spanish and Sports Literature. It Is also interesting to mention that there were about a hundred different courses to choose from. Some of them are very special ones like Sports Medicine.

- Did you do sports at school?
Yes, I did. I played tennis on the varsity team. We trained three and a half hours every day and had a game twice a week.

- Was it difficult at first to follow the classes or your classmates’ conversations?
It was very difficult to understand everything at the beginning because I had to get used to the speed and the American accent. But after a couple of weeks I got used to it. Everything is just a matter of practise.

- Did you make friends quickly?
Yes, I did. In my first week I made a lot of friends and became part of a group. I also had my tennis team which I saw every day, so I was very lucky.

- Did you have an own locker?
Yes, I did, but I did not use it very often.

- Did you take the typical American school bus?
No, sadly I didn’t, because I lived two minutes away from school. We also had school buses, but most students were driven by their parents or drove to school in their own car.

- Did you have a school uniform? Was there a dress code?
I didn’t have a school uniform and there was no dress code. However, the athletes wore their jerseys on Fridays because Friday was game day. We also had pyjama days which means that we all went to school in sloppy clothes or pyjamas. Occasionally there were themes for football and basketball games, e. g. “all white” or “green and white”, because these were our school colours.

- Was there a prom at the end of the school year?
Of course we had a prom! And it’s exactly how you would imagine it. We were in a beautiful gallery in San Francisco.

- Did you have to write exams? Have they been graded? If yes, how did you manage this?
I had to write every exam and I also received grades. At the beginning, my grades were not so good especially because a part of the exams were written online which I had to get used to at first. But over the time I improved a lot.

- Were you accommodated in a family with children of their own? If yes, how many did they have and how old were they?
I was accommodated in a host family with three children. The oldest was fifteen, the middle thirteen and the youngest 12 years old.

- Was the family nice and did you get along with them well?
I got along very well with my host family. There were no bad incidents and we even went on vacation together.

- Did the family live in a house or in an apartment?
They lived in a big house.

- Was there another exchange student in the family?
No, I was the only one.

- What did you do in your free time?
In my free time I played a lot of tennis and on the weekend I was always out with my friends. We often went to the beach or the mall. During the holidays I also made road trips with my friends.

- How did you get from A to B? Were you driven by your host parents? Did you go by bike or did you take the bus?
I went by bike and foot a lot. My host parents also drove me sometimes. Additionally, I used Uber or Lyft a lot which is similar to our taxi. Public transportation as we know it, does not exist there. I also had many friends who had cars so I often got picked up by them.

- Were you homesick?
I can still remember sitting in the plane and just wanting to jump out, because I was already homesick. But once I landed, I forgot everything. I was most homesick during Christmas time, but apart from that I wasn’t homesick, because I enjoyed my time there very much.

- What did you miss the most from Germany?
Definitely my family and friends, but other than that nothing else.

- What did you like the most in the USA?
I like that Americans are very straightforward and open-minded which therefore made my arrival very pleasant and easy. The school with its special school spirit was also a highlight.

- Did you get settled back home quickly?
Actually, I didn't find it that difficult. It was a little adjustment, but a nice one.

- Did you quickly reconnect with your German friends?
Outside school I kept all my friends. But since I had to repeat a year I was one grade below my old class. That’s why I lost contact to some of my former classmates, which is normal. The good thing is that you can always make new friends, which I certainly did.

- Are you still in contact with your host family and your American friends?
Yes, I am. We are all connected via social media which makes staying in contact very easy. Furthermore, my American friend has already visited me and I’m planning to do the same.

- Would you recommend a year abroad?
Yes, I definitely would! If anyone has any questions concerning to a year abroad please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thanks a lot to Despina to tell us such interesting details about what is it like to live in America!

Transkript von Pauline Dörsam (8d)


Sa, 01.04.2023
- So, 16.04.2023
Mo, 17.04.2023
- Di, 18.04.2023
Unterrichtsfrei KS2
Mi, 19.04.2023
- Fr, 05.05.2023
Schriftliche Abiturprüfungen
Di, 02.05.2023
- Mi, 03.05.2023
Aufführungen der Theater-AG der Mittelstufe
Mo, 08.05.2023
Wiederbeginn Unterricht KS 2
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