STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: A Cultural Exchange

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

by TOMMY PUGH and SOPHIE GORECKI - Exchange students Fernanda Chiba (12) and Julia Pzhiluskaia (12) discuss their experiences in Westfield.

Q: What country are you from?


Fernanda: I’m from Brazil.


Julia: I’m from Russia.


Q: How long have you been in Westfield so far, and how long are you going to stay?


Fernanda: I’ve been here for two or three months, and I’m going to stay until graduation.


Julia: I got here in August and I’m leaving after graduation.


Q: What is the biggest cultural difference you’ve noticed?


Fernanda: People here are so, so, so close. They don’t talk to other people [outside of their friend group]. It’s so hard to make friends and it’s so completely different from Brazil, because in Brazil if you say hi, everybody says hi back.


Julia: I think it is hard to make friends here because we are different, and we don’t communicate in the way you do. With cultural differences, everything is different: the education system, the people, relationships between friends and families. Another difference is that here people always smile and say hi, but in Russia people are so serious. Strangers on the street don’t really look at you.


Fernanda: Also, [Americans] drink milk with everything. This is a big thing here that is completely different. We just drink milk maybe in coffee, in the evening, or the morning. [Americans] drink it with pasta! There aren’t too many things that are different here, but it is hard to make friends.


Q: What are some of the differences between school in America and your home country?


Fernanda: The education system here you can choose classes like psychology or theatre. Also, in Brazil, you need to take a test to get into university, and the test is really hard. Public universities in Brazil are really competitive. It’s 180 questions and you take it over two days. You have just five hours to take it. It has everything on it: physics, all kinds of math, language, everything. So, it's a lot easier to get into university here.


Julia: For me, a huge difference is that you can choose classes. [In Russia] we have to study all of the academics during the whole year, like math and science.


Q: What new foods have you tried? Which ones are your favorites?


Fernanda: I’m completely obsessed with [maple] syrup. We don’t have it in Brazil because it’s Canadian. My host family always calls me Elf because of the movie.


Julia: I’m a vegetarian, but the best foods that I’ve tried here are probably ice cream and frozen yogurt.


Q: What do you miss most from your home country?


Fernanda: The lovely people. There’s good and bad things [in Brazil], but it’s really easy to meet people there. Also the parties and my family and friends.


Julia: I miss my family, friends and culture. Also my favorite places like cafes and streets.


Q: How do you keep in contact with your family?


Fernanda: It’s funny because everyone here uses Snapchat. In Brazil everyone used it it about a year ago, but nobody really uses it anymore. We use WhatsApp all the time; I talk with my family and friends a lot on there.


Julia: In Russia, we have a Russian social network that they only use there. Also, I FaceTime and text message my family.


Q: What surprised you most when you came here?


Fernanda: For me, nothing really surprised me because I’ve been here before about five times. My family is completely obsessed with the United States. My sister went here before as an exchange student and lived in Indianapolis.


Julia: I’m the opposite. This is my first time in the United States, but I want to study in college here.


Q: Is there anything you are looking forward to trying in America? What have you already tried?


Fernanda: Prom, homecoming, football games and basketball games.


Julia: I’m more excited to travel to new states. I’ve been to California, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and New York. I want to go to Texas, Florida and every other state.


Q: How did your expectations of the United States differ from reality?


Fernanda: You can’t have expectations for when you do your exchange. You just say yes and go. You have to [tell yourself] “Okay, I can do this.”


Julia: I didn’t expect anything specific, and I don’t regret anything. I’m really happy that I’m here, and I like pretty much everything, even the difficulties. It’s all a part of my experience and that’s okay.


Fernanda Chiba (12) from Brazil and Julia Pzhiluskaia (12) from Russia are spending their senior year in Westfield as exchange students.

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