December 28, 2012

Werner Braun: Being an exchange student a great experience

Earlier this year, my daughter Marylyn had the chance to go to the country of my birth, Germany, for an exchange program that introduced more than a dozen of our young Dalton High School students to the culture of a different nation.

They were students from DHS teacher Frau Ava Wyatt’s German classes, and they spent three weeks in June studying in German classrooms, taking field trips to historic sites and learning what family life is like in that part of Europe.

So I was very interested to hear the impressions of a college student living in student housing at Dalton State College and hosted by a Dalton family, the Adcocks, to learn what seems different or unusual from her point of view.

Sarah Bath is a native of England who was awarded a Georgia Rotary Student Program scholarship to study at Dalton State. The Carpet Capital Rotary Club is her sponsor this year, and she presented a program to our club recently to share her experiences with us.

Not surprisingly, Sarah was most complimentary of Blake Adcock and his family for “making my experience here much more enjoyable. What they’ve done for me is something I will never forget.”

Other things she says she’s not likely to forget are her initial impressions of life in the United States.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect when arriving in the U.S as this was my first time here,” she said. “However, American television shows and films kind of give me somewhat of an idea.

“One of the biggest differences I’ve found between the U.S. and England is that Americans drive a lot more than Brits! Dalton is a lot more spread out than the village I come from, so I can see why that’s needed, but cars seem to be far more important here.”

Hailing from a small village of only about 200 men, women and children, Sarah’s nearest “big city” is Louth, a town about half the size of Dalton that is about three miles away from her home.

“Louth is a rather old town, dating back to before the 10th century, and it has maintained many independent retailers, which is quite different from Dalton. In the States, there are a lot more chains, and just many more shops in general. So I have a lot more access to things in my host country.”

More stores and more chains mean more “fast-food” outlets, she has found.

“The main difference between here and home is the sheer amount of junk food available,” she observed.

“I have to drive 30 minutes from home in order to get to a McDonald’s, yet there are at least four in Dalton alone! At home, we have much less of a selection of such fast-food places.”

Sarah has found the weather to be vastly different from England, especially when she arrived in August and had to deal with the relentless heat.

“It’s quite a bit warmer, and drier, than England here, but it makes for a nice change.”

Culturally, Sarah admits to being a bit surprised about the lengths Americans go to celebrate certain holidays.

“Christmas seems to be a more important time of the year in Georgia, with celebrations and decorations starting with almost everyone on the first of December, whereas at home, it’s around a week or two before Christmas.

“But our Christmas meal is quite similar to Thanksgiving dinner here,” she said, with roast turkey and vegetables making up the main fare.

Besides starting the celebration earlier, Sarah has noticed that Southerners differ from the Brits by not being as familiar with seasonal Advent calendars which are used to count down the days until Christmas.

“Advent calendars are very popular at home.”

Now that the holiday season is about over, Sarah will be making her way back to Georgia for her second semester as a Georgia Rotary Student Program student.

Although they haven’t met, Sarah and my daughter Marylyn share a bond as young people who are fortunate enough to have studied abroad. Whether for a few weeks or an academic year, studying abroad is a great way to broaden one’s perspectives and to embrace the richness of the global experience.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.

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