This is the third article in the 2019-20 academic year series ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Bailea Gartside from Aukland, New Zealand. She is one of 7 foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Bailea! Tell us about yourself.
I am 17, a senior at Conard High, and I love THEATRE! I’m on the principal’s Student Advisory Committee and am looking forward to being a part of the team. I love being around people and hope you’ll all come say hello when you see me wandering in the Center or at school.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I really wanted to try to live differently than I did back home. I was hoping to have experiences I wouldn’t normally have in New Zealand. My mom was an AFS exchange student in Oregon in 1998, and I always heard about how it really shaped who she was. I’d been to America on holiday before, but I wanted to know what it was REALLY like – not just Disney and Hawaii.
What are the biggest cultural differences between New Zealand and here?
I feel like things are more formal here – we call all adults by their first names in New Zealand. Everything here is so much bigger – there’s so much to see. It doesn’t seem like there are drastic differences. It’s just MORE. The population of New Zealand just doesn’t justify making things as big as they are here. We have malls … but not nearly as big as Westfarms, for example.
As far as school goes, we wear uniforms and the teachers give information. Here, at Conard, I truly feel like the teachers care. I like the class discussions that we have, rather than just listening to lectures. I find it interesting that the teachers check in on each individual student.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I like the Center. The people are so nice – and everyone is so welcoming, I don’t feel like an outsider here. I adore my host family – we are all so theatre-y and fun. I love the proximity to New York and am so grateful that my host family has taken me there already. I don’t feel like I’m in a concrete jungle here in WeHa. There’s open spaces and nature, but the accessibility of the town center. I’m already 1/15th the way through my exchange year, and I’m already dreading going home …
What do you do outside of school here?
Theatre!!!! Or Theater, as you say here. I have joined the mock trial club. We don’t have anything like that in New Zealand. The drama club kids have taken in in as one of their own, and it’s made all the difference. By the way, I say YES to any new friend who invites me to do things. I just want to see all the American stuff! I got cast in the fall play, The Importance of Being Earnest – I’m Lady Bracknell. Come see the show!
What would you like people reading this to know about:
New Zealand: New Zealand is NOT in Europe. It’s not to be mistaken for Australia. There are six sheep to every person. Our white wines are amazing. And it’s actually the Adventure Capitol of the World – it’s worth the long flight … there’s a lot to do on holiday.
Hosting an AFS exchange student: It’s great to help someone who wants to learn about your culture – if someone’s willing to travel this way and experience your world, it’s great to host them and watch them grow in a new country.
Being an AFS exchange student: If you have the opportunity, DO IT! If you’re the slightest bit interested in learning about a new culture, definitely do it. So far, I’m so glad I made the decision to be an exchange student!
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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