Meet West Hartford’s AFS Students: Paul Gagalick from Switzerland

Paul Gagalick is welcomed by his host family. Courtesy photo

This is the next 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 Debbie Peterson, AFS Volunteer and Paul’s support liaison.

Meet Paul Gagalick from Thun, Switzerland. He is one of the AFS exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.

Paul Gagalick (left) with his host brother, Ethan, on the first day of school. Courtesy photo

Hi, Paul! Tell us about yourself.

Hi – I’m a senior at Conard. I come from Thun in a house overlooking the lake of Thun, about two hours from Zurich. I have a 19-year-old sister, a 15-year-old sister, and a 13-year-old brother. I’m in the middle at 17. My mom is a doctor and my dad is a dentist. I plan to study dentistry and follow in my dad’s footsteps. I live with the Kramer/Glasser family in West Hartford. My host sister is away at college, but my host brother, Ethan, has made me feel very welcome and we have fun together.

Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?

My mom and sister were both exchange students and talked about what a great experience it is. It was a big decision because I’ll “lose” a year of school, but when looking at my sister’s photos and listening to her stories around this time last year, I decided to go for it. I was amazed that I was matched to my host family here in only three days!

What are the biggest cultural differences between Switzerland and here?

You drive everywhere here and I’m used to using my bike much more often to get where I need to go. I have a regular bicycle and a motorcycle. There’s also a lot more wildlife here around town. This could be partly because my host family lives in a wooded area.

I’ve also noticed that we treat time differently. In Switzerland, we’re always crazy on time for everything whereas here it’s considered acceptable to be 30 minutes late for a gathering. 

What have you liked about West Hartford and Thun?

TBH, it feels a lot like what I’ve seen in movies about American high school! People are very open, less reserved than at home, where it takes longer to get to know people. And school seems easier here. My classes at home are more like AP classes here, and there’s more time spent in non-core courses here. 

What do you do outside of school here?

I was on the soccer team, which was a lot of fun. Now that the season has ended, I’m doing indoor track with my host brother, Ethan. I’d like to join the volleyball team in the spring.

I joined an international food club with some friends. We meet every other week on Wednesdays to pick a country and plan, then we meet on Saturday to eat and hang out. Let me know if you’d like to join us!

What would you like people reading this to know about:

Hosting an AFS exchange student: Successful hosts should be open to learning new ideas and not prejudging. You should be interested in other cultures and learning about them.

Being an AFS exchange student:  It’s an amazing opportunity to see new things, meet new people, and see the world!

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 visit afsUSA.org.

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