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Brazilian exchange student reflects on her American experience

by Sierra Hieshetter

contributing reporter

Lowell is a small town with a big heart, and the world is a vast place with lots of stories to share. It can be hard to gain perspective of what the world has to offer our community. But every year, a tiny slice of the big, wide world arrives in Lowell in the form of our global high school exchange students. This year one of Lowell High School’s exchange students is Anna Beatriz Santana, a sixteen year old from Brazil. She shared her story with our paper to help bring global knowledge into our community.

Anna is a tenth grader in her home country of Brazil. She lives (in her words) a pretty average life, going to school, and the club. “By the club I mean the place with pools and stuff like that. It is very hot there!” She started learning English when she was nine years old and has always wanted to come to America. “I always wanted to come visit Disneyland,” she said, “But I realized that it’s too much money for a short amount of time, and for a bit more money I could spend a whole year.”

At age thirteen, she decided to pursue the idea with her mom. “I was at that age when I wanted to get away from my family a little bit. I was always an early bird- I mean I was always more independent than my friends. So I started asking my mom, and three years later she finally let me.” After deciding to become an exchange student, Anna had to be assigned a location.  “It was pretty crazy for us because I found out I was going to be in Michigan on Thursday and I left on Friday. I knew nothing. I could’ve gone to Alaska or Hawaii or anywhere in America. I barely had time to do any research before. I mostly just looked up the temperature because I was a little worried about that!”

While in Lowell, Anna lives with a local family, the Andersons.  “I love my host family. I was kind of nervous getting off the plane, and there were a lot of people with big signs saying ‘Welcome to America’ and stuff like that. And my host family was there with a big yellow sign- it was a good sign- and we hugged each other, it was great.”

America has definitely been a bit of a culture shock for Anna. “I was in the New York airport and I went to the bathroom, and the toilet flushed on its own, and I thought it was a ghost. It happens.” She also loves the food! “The first time I ate Reese’s I cried!” Our high school has also been a new experience. “I went to the (football) games, and was so fun! I mean, I don’t care about the games, I don’t get it at all, I don’t even look at the score, but it’s fun!”

The exchange student program requires the students to take certain classes, “We all have to take English and History and Biology,” but Anna also gets to experiment with her schedule, “I was a good student at my school, and it’s kind of hard because of the language but I can do it! Psychology is my favorite class so far. I have a lot of things I’m considering for college, I’d take all classes if I could but I have to choose.” Anna has also loved her English classes, “I love writing, I even wrote some poems in English, they’re not great, but I tried! I love writing, you can do a lot of stuff with it.”

The best part about the experience for her has been the great people she’s met. “I’ve made a lot of great friends, there is Sophia who is from Brazil too, but she is like eighteen hours away from my home, so we wouldn’t have met otherwise! All of the exchange students are great friends for me.”

Overall, Anna is having an amazing time in America. “The exchange student process has both positives and negatives. I’ve met a bunch of people, great people, it’s such a great experience for me. I learn how to be more responsible and to accept differences between people. But I miss my family and I’m away from everything that I know. It’s an awesome opportunity I’d recommend to anyone, you just gotta go for it.”

And is she happy to have landed in our little town? “Yes! I’m very happy, I like it here. There’s no better place I could be.”

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