AHS guidance counselor Jason Fogel says that Allendale has welcomed foreign exchange students into its hallways and classrooms for at least the past twelve years — and this year is no different. In fact, at the writing of this article there were three exchange students (who we’ll introduce below), but there are now four! In just the past few days, Allendale added Serbia to the list of nations represented by the Falcons flag.
Today we’ll get to know senior Greta Bianco from Italy, sophomore Marcus Saugmann from Denmark and sophomore Vanya Icayenko from Ukraine. Our hope is that you’ll take the time to welcome them if you see them at school or around town, and remind them why ours is a special community to be part of.Greta Bianco, who loves traveling and meeting new people, will be staying in the States through January, at which time she’ll return home to Italy. She dreams of visiting both the West and East Coasts, and after a trip to Grand Haven, says that it “is more beautiful than Italy.” Despite missing home for the first week, Greta now says that her new friends has made the transition easy.
One difference that Greta has had to adjust to is our style of eating and the rituals surrounding our meals. She explains that at home, Sunday dinners are a big affair, with the entire family gathering over a large meal. Here in the US she has noticed that Sunday dinners are more laid back, often with family members fending for themselves. “It was a little bit weird for me because in Italy we eat as a family.”
Before leaving, Greta hopes to ski (although she’s used to skiing the Alps at home), and encourages others to take the risk of being a foreign exchange student. She feels lucky, saying the “…USA is a very nice place. I like the culture and the people — everyone is really nice.”
Vanya Icayenko is thrilled to be on American soil, saying, “It’s really awesome and I’m happy I am here. My host family is really nice, they’re really cool people. And actually in USA they’re really different people, they’re really lovely, friendly. Everybody asked thousands of questions, it’s really awesome.”
Vanya is a big fan of hockey and is enjoying the fact that his host family goes to Georgetown Ice Arena each friday night. He even brought his own hockey equipment with him from Ukraine! Already gifted with attending the record-setting University of Michigan vs. Notre Dame game, Vanya said he would also like to visit Lansing, Detroit and New York City, his dream.
Also homesick at first, Vanya now says that keeping busy has helped him focus on his time here and really enjoy the unique opportunity to study abroad. “It’s a really perfect opportunity to exchange culture with my country to know something new about the USA and it’s my first time traveling abroad, my first flight.”
Marcus Saugmann came to the U.S. largely on the recommendation of his cousin who spent time in Wisconsin last year. Ready for change and up for an adventure, Marcus decided to seize the day and take his sophomore year to travel abroad.
Marcus notes that although school is quite different in the United States, he doesn’t see dramatic differences between the Danish and American cultures. Interestingly, however, he has noted that the people he’s interacted with seem to stick closer to home. “It seems that people here don’t leave America — they go camping. When I go on vacation I go to Egypt, Italy or Spain.”
A varsity soccer player, Marcus notes that sporting events are one of the places he really sees the community coming together. “Americans are very social with each other. They say ‘hi’ to each other in the grocery store, and for football games, the whole city comes out.”
Allendale High School is proud to open wide its doors to the world. We hope these students will have fantastic experiences and leave with a new lens on life. Be sure to welcome these students to West Michigan!