Foreign students transition into American life

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Photo: Emily Latham

Students from all over the world attend FHS.

Every year, it seems that more and more students from other countries are joining the Kettering and Fairmont communities. Most of them or their parents are fluent in another language. Great variations exist between lifestyles and aspects of education, so the experiences these students have been through are quite diverse.

Sophia Stone, a sophomore at Fairmont, is fluent in Russian. Her family is from Ukraine and being assimilated into American culture has been a long process that is not over yet. 

Stone’s mother applies Russian cultural morals in her life so that she doesn’t forget her roots and so she doesn’t take American way of life for granted.

“People here in America tend to worry about a lot more and they take things for granted like how they are able to drive pretty much wherever they please,” Stone said.

The majority of people in Russia depend on public transportation, so having a car is a luxury. Morals and way of life between the U.S. and Russia along with their respective public school systems can vary in many ways.

According to Stone, Ukrainian education is different in the sense that there is only one teacher per student and that students go for half a day at a time. A typical school career for a student in Russia would start when they were 6 years old and end when they were 15.

The subjects taught in Russian education are pretty standard for their society but there might be some concerns for teaching Russian in the American school systems. “I feel like it is a very difficult language to learn, so you would have to learn it at a young age,” Stone said.

Studies have shown that younger children do comprehend new languages better because they are naturally inclined to comprehend new information. Even though it may be difficult, Sophia feels that for someone to personally take the initiative to learn Russian would be a really amazing thing.

Although bilingual students are more common than multi-lingual ones, some students here at Fairmont know up to 4 languages and are currently in ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages), which is a class that helps students that didn’t have English as first language. These students come to the U.S. with little knowledge of English and American culture.

Sevar Shaker is a senior here at Fairmont who is from Iraq and is fluent in Kurdish, Arabic, and English. When he lived in Iraq, he didn’t have an opportunity to learn English. “In first and second grade, I was in a school that spoke Arabic but then I switched to a Kurdish speaking school,” he said.

Language is a huge part of culture and Shaker claimed that English is taught in most schools in Iraq. Many students at Fairmont do speak Arabic but it isn’t a class you can take like Spanish, French, German, or Latin. Shaker thinks Arabic should be taught at Fairmont because it would help display and support Arab culture.

Unlike Arabic, Spanish is taught at Fairmont and many Hispanic students do take the course, even though they already know it. To some, taking a language you already know might seem like a waste of time but grammar practice and knowledge of the culture can still be taught to native speakers through a class.

One of those students is Jose Hernandez. After being born and raised in Mexico, he came to America for his second and third grade year and then returned to his native country. His family then moved back to America and he has been here throughout his high school years. He is now a senior at Fairmont and is quite knowledgeable on the culture and way of life of Americans.

Many foreign students who come into Fairmont are limited in their English skills but they want to learn more so they can be proud of their knowledge for multiple languages. “I want to learn more English and when I become really good at [English] then I will be extremely proud of it,” Hernandez said.

Despite the difficulties that being assimilated into another country brings, Hernandez likes America more than Mexico because there are more opportunities for the future.

Susan Werner, the teacher of ESOL, is one of those people who is providing opportunities for foreign students. She has the best idea on what it is like for foreign students coming into America and having to learn another language.

“There are a lot of challenging things,” she said. “First of all, the language is hard, and the culture is so different that some students have trouble understanding it.”

There are some other factors that cause difficulties for an incoming foreign student such as lack of friends, expectations of the school, and adapting to an unfamiliar environment.

Werner thinks the overall culture shock is the hardest part of coming to another country. Regardless of how challenging coming to America may be, she has full confidence in her students.

“They are extremely hard working kids that appreciate the opportunity to be able to come to Fairmont,” she said.