This is the first article in our series this year, ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS host mom and volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Amira Amri from Kiel, Germany. She is one of five AFS foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year and one of 24 hosted in Connecticut.
Hi, Amira! Tell us about yourself.
I’m 16, a junior at Conard this year. I’m from Kiel, the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, at the North of Germany on the Baltic Sea. I grew up with my mom – no brothers or sisters – in an apartment near the city center. I studied theatre for many years and did a lot of sports in Germany. I came here because I won a CBYX-PPP scholarship through the German government, and am one of 50 CBYX students in the U.S. with AFS. I live with an amazing host family and have a host brother at Conard. My host sister is studying abroad with AFS in Belgium now. (I’m really happy that I got to meet her before she left.)
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I was always fascinated by American films and getting to learn about new cultures. I wanted to get to know new people. In Germany, English was my favorite class, and I wanted to improve it and get to use what I learned. I wanted to grow, to get to know a new side of me, and to challenge myself.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Germany and here?
Driving is definitely more important here. I find that it’s really hard to be independent without a car here, but in Germany I’m really independent because we have public transport everywhere. I can take a bus or a train everywhere. School is very different, too. Compared to my school in Germany, I can choose my classes here! It’s exciting for me to study new things and things I choose. I also see my teachers every day here, so it builds a better relationship with them. I don’t have to wait for a week to ask my teacher something. And I also really appreciate the diversity here at Conard. There are so many more different religions and people from different backgrounds here than at my school in Germany – and it’s really interesting to learn from each other. I since I’ve come to the U.S., I’ve also learned to appreciate the German free healthcare system and almost free education, though. It does allow everyone to have equal access to healthcare and education.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I’m very grateful to live in West Hartford. Connecticut has a really good school system – especially compared to the U.S. The community here is really nice, and I feel like everyone is really welcoming and interested in my culture, too. It feels very safe, and it feels like home now. And so far, I really love fall in New England! The Reservoir in autumn is beautiful!
What do you do outside of school here?
In the fall, I found a new passion – running on the cross country team! I met amazing girls on the team, and really enjoyed being part of the school team. (We don’t have school-sponsored team sports in Germany). I’m also doing 10-Minute Plays now and am going to try out for the musical at Conard. And I think I’ll do track and field in the spring.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Germany: Germany is a big country with a lot of history. People in my generation are really open-minded. In the North we have the sea, and in the South we have mountains. We have beautiful castles, lots of good food to try – especially fish and breads/pastries in the North where I live. You can go in amazing bike trips in Germany, and you have to try local breweries on your trip. And if you go to my favorite city, Hamburg, you have to go on a boat trip and also try fischbröchen.
Hosting an AFS exchange student: Hosting is super important for your family to get international understanding. I think the host family learns, too, about their student’s culture. I’m thankful that a family wants to host me and lets me live my dream. I love that they show me what they love to do and that I can learn so much from them. Sharing is caring, like they say!
Being an AFS exchange student: I think that American students should absolutely study abroad. You should do an exchange because when you do, you become a better version of yourself. You learn new skills, to respect new people, to say “YES” to things you never thought you’d say yes to! It’s not just about learning a new language. It opens new doors.
AFS-USA, a non-profit organization, has been a leader in international student exchange for more than 70 years. Its mission is to enhance the global competency of U.S. citizens by providing intercultural learning experiences for individuals, families, communities and schools through a global volunteer partnership. Each year, AFS-USA awards more than $3 million in scholarships and financial aid to U.S. students applying to study abroad, and it maintains a network of more than 4,000 U.S. volunteers who support participating educators, students and families nationwide.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afsUSA.org.
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