By Carlina Duan
With approximately 60 foreign exchange students across the district this school year, Ann Arbor’s high schools are packed with a wide variety of exotic culture and language. Yet, uniting the American teen lifestyle with the overseas heritage has proven, in the past, to be difficult.
This year, there is a solution: A2ties – Ann Arbor Together for International Exchange Students – a student-founded group that creatively reaches out to foreign exchange students across the district.
Established last summer, A2ties has branches at Pioneer, Huron, Community and Skyline high schools and it has worked to assist exchange students with adjusting and intermingling with American society throughout the school year.
“The exchange student community is very segregated, and it’s segregated between American students and exchange students,” said Pioneer junior Amelia Brinkerhoff, one of the group’s founders. “The (exchange student’s) goal is to come to America and learn our culture, and if the German kids sit with the German kids, they’re not learning that culture.
“Our goal is to have these students meet new people, to welcome these international citizens into our school, and to improve the quality of the relationship between the American students and exchange students.”
Weekly and monthly events are being planned by the group, which launched the program with an exchange student Welcome Party in the fall.
“We’re going to have weekly Ultimate Frisbee games, soccer games, a tie-dye party, and a Zingerman’s lunch, so we can experience new things together, have fun, and just meet other people,” said Brinkerhoff. The group also is planning a camping trip for later on in the school year, as well as several movie outings and other sporting events.
On Oct. 31, the group hosted a Halloween party for students from around the district. On Nov. 29, they visited the University of Michigan Museum of Art to view exhibits and gain “an enjoyable end to Thanksgiving break, as well as one that does not involve food!” Brinkerhoff said. David Torres, another group founder, has planned a Christmas Cookie Party on Dec. 21 from 4-7 p.m. (for location and information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“We want these exchange students to have connections all over the place in Ann Arbor. (We want) for them to go out with their host family and see people that they know; because when you have that much pressure and responsibility on you, the littlest things a smile, a wave – can make a huge difference,” Brinkerhoff added.
The group’s founders consist of Ann Arbor students who have returned from one-year exchange student programs.
Founder Michaela Carmein, Community High School junior, said those who have traveled know what is needed. “When [all of us] went abroad, we wished we could’ve had some sort of resource like this,” she said “When I got to Argentina last year for my year abroad, I was totally lost. I didn’t know anybody for the first month. Instead of exchange students hanging out by themselves, they should hang out with us. That way, they’ll be integrated with our society and culture.”
Organizers hope to promote awareness of such challenges exchange students face during their months away from home, and help create connections by spreading their message to the American students.
“The problem with us American students is that we get caught up with the high school experience. We don’t think things like, ‘Who is that girl in the corner?’ But we need to,” added Brinkerhoff.
Carlina Duan is News Editor of The Optimist, the student newspaper at Pioneer High School. This article was originally published in a fall edition of The Optimist.