Taking a chance in a new country

October 28, 2019 — by Kavita Sundaram

Junior Anaïk Jeanjaquet boarded her plane nervously in late August. It was her first time flying alone, and while she was surrounded by people going on short vacations, she knew she was going for much longer than that. 

She had never spent more than two weeks away from her family and home, Switzerland, so the prospect of leaving for an entire year was frightening. As the plane took off, she found herself thinking, “Why am I doing this?” 

Although the 12-hour journey was slightly scary, as soon as she landed and met her host family, she knew everything would be all right.

Jeanjaquet is from Schwyz, a small Swiss village with a population under 17,000. Coming from a place where high school has selective admittance, the main language is French and the temperature in the winter rarely rises above 45 degrees, Saratoga provides a stark contrast for her.

Jeanjaquet became interested in being an exchange student over a year ago when she visited the U.S. for the first time. She had originally planned on doing an exchange program in either England or the U.S., but after visiting both places, she decided she preferred California. 

 She was recommended to the Northwest Students Exchange Organization by a friend who had come to Notre Dame High School in San Jose the year prior. Jeanjaquet contacted different schools in the San Jose area and, after choosing Saratoga High, was finally connected with her host family. The first exchange student from her school in Switzerland, she now lives with sophomore Linnea Bradley and her family.

According to Registrar Robert Wise, the school receives one or two exchange students annually, usually from Europe or South America. Jeanjaquet was the first to come to Saratoga from Switzerland in three years. 

After living in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, the most significant difference Jeanjaquet noticed between Saratoga and Schwyz was not in customs but in the people themselves. 

Upon coming to Saratoga High, the first thing that stood out to her was the immense diversity of the student body and staff. 

“I definitely didn’t have a ‘culture shock,’ but compared to my school in Switzerland, the amount of people from different countries was a lot more,” Jeanjaquet said.

Along with this, Jeanjaquet was surprised by the welcoming and friendly people that she met. 

“It’s really easy to go up to someone and start talking to them,” she said. “Everyone is friends with each other and by talking to someone new, you don’t feel like you are being judged.”

Regarding living with a new family, Jeanjaquet did not find it to be difficult, and her host family did not find it hard to adapt to living with someone new.

“Whenever people think about different countries, they have misconceptions regarding the degree of differentiation between people, but really we all have similar affinities, and it's easy to adjust to each other,” said Bradley, her host sister.

Another difference that Jeanjaquet noted was the abundance of students who wear sweatpants, something that wasn’t common in Switzerland. She found that a lot of people wear comfy clothes to school every day. 

 Aside from the people, high school in the U.S. is a completely different experience from high school in Switzerland. Gymnasium, as high school is called in Schwyz, requires the completion of an entrance exam which determines if you get into the school or not. 

Jeanjaquet attended a gymnasium called Kantonsschule Ausserschwyz Pfȧffikon, which translates to “school outside Schwyz.” With under 300 students in her school, the large student body of over 1,300 kids in Saratoga High was a big change for Jeanjaquet.

Regardless of the drastic changes in schooling, Jeanjaquet found that she was able to assimilate fairly quickly and easily to her new schedule of Introduction to Engineering, Art 3, US History and English 11. However, something that did affect her ability to fall into a daily routine in the United States was the lack of public transport.  

“In Switzerland, I always travel by train or bus, but here, parents have to constantly worry about taking their kids to places,” she said.

Jeanjaquet overcomes this by biking to school and back. 

Although coming to a new country for a year was initially a daunting prospect for Jeanjaquet, the warm culture of her friends and host family made the transition a lot easier. 

“It was a little bit difficult to find friends at first, but everyone here is really kind,” Jeanjaquet said. “My overall experience has been really positive.”