The American way isn’t really something that the average American thinks about, but for 17-year-old Sophie Bel, a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands, getting a glimpse of American culture was always a dream.
“I’ve always wanted to go to America,” Bel said. “I don’t really know why; I’ve just wanted to. And I saw that a girl that I knew was doing an American exchange, so I thought, ‘I’m old enough now, and I’m also in high school, so why not?’”
Almost a year after that initial thought, Bel boarded a plane and headed to her new, year-long American life.
“I left Aug. 16, and I flew from Amsterdam to Washington, D.C., with two other exchange students, so I wasn’t by myself,” she said. “Then we had to wait for five hours, but our flight got canceled. We had to spend the night in Washington, D.C., so they gave us a hotel. Then the next morning we flew from Washington to Dallas.”
She isn’t only visiting the country, though; she’s experiencing it as a true teenager, assimilating herself into the American curriculum.
“The school system is really different over here, and the school is really big compared to my old school. It was kind of overwhelming the first few days, but I’m already used to it.”
Bel says Holland really isn’t much different from the United States, but students still have a desire to learn about the foreign land.
“Most people are like ‘oh you’re an exchange student? That’s so cool!’ They’re really nice, though,” she said. “A lot of people ask me to say things in Dutch or ask me questions like if we have fish or iPhones and stuff like that; we do have fish and iPhones. It’s kind of the same as America. We have some different habits, but most things are the same.”
And even though the countries are similar and she went through extensive preparation, some things still amazed Bel upon arriving in the United States.
“I’m still surprised about how religious people are over here,” she said. “Almost no one is religious in Holland. It’s kind of surprising how many people still believe over here.”
Another noticeable difference according to Bel is the “local cuisine.”
“Compared to here, we eat really healthily [in Holland],” she said. “We eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and whole-grain products. There’s so much fast food over here. It’s not that I don’t like fast food, I just always try to live healthy, but it’s kind of hard with all the fast food. My [host] family doesn’t really cook dinner every night, so most of the time we just go through a drive-through, but they try their best to buy healthy stuff for me because they know that I like living healthy.”
However, Bel has wanted to experience those cultural differences.
“[The American culture is] just something that you always see on TV, and I wanted to see it for myself,” Bel said. “I can’t really explain why, but I’ve just always wanted to come to America.”
SYDNIE MCCORMICK is a junior at Guyer High School and a participant in the Record-Chronicle’s “Speak Out Loud” writing program for student journalists.