International students compare experiences

April 3, 2013 — by Carolyn Sun and Helen Wong
Twelve months have made a big difference in sophomore Charley Dutro’s life.
Twelve months have made a big difference in sophomore Charley Dutro’s life.
Last April, he travelled from class to class in the hallways of Saratoga High. These days, he attends classes as an exchange student at  Kranich Gymnasium School in Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, Germany, where he plans to stay for one year in accordance with the exchange program’s time proscriptions. 
“I chose to be an exchange student because I thought it would be an interesting experience, and so far it's been pretty great,” Dutro said.
According to Dutro, the biggest difference between Saratoga and Kranich is the way classes are organized. At Kranich Gymnasium, students do not switch classrooms between periods until the 11th grade. Before then, students have only one classroom, much like a homeroom, and the teachers come to them.
Dutro is one of several former Saratoga High students navigating their way through foreign schools this year.
Senior Candice Huang, who went to Saratoga her freshman year but was raised in Taiwan, is now attending Kaohsiung International School in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She said another difference is that instead of American APs, international schools have an IB program, or International Baccalaureate.
“[It’s] kind of similar to APs but a lot more intense,” Huang said. “We don’t have as many choices for classes, partly because of the IB program, but mainly due to the limited number of students.”
The IB courses are two years long, and to obtain an IB diploma, a student must complete three college-level classes, 120 hours of community service, sports and creativity-related activity hours and a 4,000-word extended essay.
According to Huang, the students at her Taiwanese school are feel pressured to achieve high grades because of peer and parental pressure, which is similar to Saratoga’s learning environment. At Kaohsiung American School, those expectations are only exacerbated by the Taiwanese school system, which ranks students.
“A lot of the parents here like to compare, especially for those of us who have been to Taiwanese local schools,” Huang said. “We grew up with this kind of pressure.”
In addition, extracurricular activities differ between the schools.
“We don’t have marching band because we don’t have enough people and it’s not something popular among high schools here in Taiwan,” Huang said, who played the marimba in the pit percussion section of the Saratoga marching band back then.
In addition to different extracurricular activities, the social environment at Kaohsiung is also different from Saratoga’s. Because the classes are small and not racially diverse, there are few to no cliques.
“Since we’re pretty much all Taiwanese, we don’t really have ‘groups’ like the Indian group, Jewish, Korean or band,” Huang said.
Although there are many differences between Saratoga and international schools, senior Sujay Khandekar, who attended Antwerp International School in Antwerp, Belgium for his freshman and sophomore years, eventually adapted to the new culture.
“In the first month or so, it felt weird, but then I got into it and I made some friends and it started to become really fun,” said Khandekar.
Because Khandekar moved from the peaceful suburbs of Saratoga to the more downtown-esque area of Antwerp for two years, he learned to be street smart and how to blend in.
Sophomore Yvonne Ye, who attended Saratoga for her freshman year, had a similar experience when she switched to  the Shanghai American School in China last fall. Whenever she goes out with her family, they try to speak Chinese to “blend in” with the natives.
“Since prices aren’t always fixed in stores, vendors know that if they’re selling to tourists, they can inflate the price,” Ye said.
Huang, Khandekar and Ye all moved to another country because of family reasons such as parents working jobs overseas.
“After my brother went to college, my mom decided to bring the rest of the family over the Pacific to help keep the family together as [much] as possible,” Ye said.
Whatever their reasons for leaving Saratoga may be or may have been, it appears that attending the school has made an impact.
“I miss Saratoga,” Ye said. “But China isn’t all that bad either.”
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