By Liv Byrnes and Marissia Potamianos
You’re surrounded by people who speak a foreign language, you live in a house with people you’ve never met before, and you’re thrown into a different culture. These are the things that foreign exchange student Marcela Guzman-Juaristi deals with everyday. Guzman-Juaristi is a 17 year old who is from a small town in central Mexico. She arrived in America just over a month ago to learn more about our culture. Adapting isn’t easy because she has never had to use this much English before, but Guzman-Juaristi is learning to get used to all of these changes.
Guzman-Juaristi said that even though the choice of where she would be located was not up to her, she likes it here in Syracuse and at Jamesville-DeWitt High School so far. There are some obstacles, however; “the classes are very hard for me,” she said. It’s also difficult to communicate with people because she’s pressured to use a lot of English and she’s never had to use English so frequently before with native English-speakers.
When Guzman-Juaristi was 11 years old she had to take English in school. Her teachers taught her the basics but never the amount of which she is learning now. English teacher Diane Rushford said that Guzman-Juaristi is attentive in class and tries to understand everything that is being taught. “It’s more difficult than what we all think,” she says. Guzman-Juaristi has been participating in her own way, in writing and in class discussions. This helps her learn at her own pace by staying focused and answering questions. Mrs. Rushford believes this will help her both inside and outside the classroom.
The school day itself is also different. Guzman-Juaristi said that the schools in Mexico give the students more freedom. She added that the teachers don’t force them to do their work. The students have the choice of working productively, and if they do work hard, they can earn a better grade than if they don’t.
Freshman Emily Pomeroy has ceramics with Guzman-Juaristi and often helps translate the teacher’s instructions for her. “She explained to me that school here is a lot harder and more organized than it is in Mexico.”
Going to school and learning the language is just one part of the whole experience of being an exchange student. The culture and American lifestyle is much different than life in Mexico. Back in Mexico, when one greeted another person, they hug and kiss cheeks. Guzman-Juaristi said that when she first met people here in America she went in to kiss them on the cheek, and they were surprised by her actions.
Another big change is the food. When Guzman-Juaristi would eat tacos back home, they would consist of cow tongues and brains. But when Guzman-Juaristi went to a Mexican restaurant with friends, she noticed that the options were chicken and ground beef. “Food in Mexico is better, but different,” she said. Besides the food, Guzman-Juaristi thinks the biggest difference is the climate. She’s always cold, so when she first came here she had to buy warmer clothing because she was not prepared for the weather.
She’s enjoyed making friends with many students in all grade levels, like junior Bella Hylen. “We have had sleepovers, been out to dinner, and just hung out. With her old friends, she went to the beach all day, but obviously we don’t have many beaches here so thats a big difference to her,” said Hylen. “Being her friend is awesome. She’s so funny and it’s cool to learn about her culture and language.”
Guzman-Juaristi has been with her host family, the Slisz’s for a month and she is continuing to learn from them. They decided to take the chance of having an exchange student. “My mom wanted an exchange student because she was one, and I wanted to improve my Spanish skills,” said junior Julia Slisz. They believe she is adjusting well. Slisz added that Guzman-Juaristi is very outgoing, so it makes it easier for her to make friends. Both the Slisz family and Guzman-Juarsiti are each learning about each other’s culture. For example, dinner with Americans is earlier than what Marcela Guzman-Juaristi is used to, and the type of food is different, but everything else fits into place.
A difficult aspect of being a foreign exchange student is communication with people back home. Guzman-Juaristi tries to stay in touch by using Whatsapp, an application that allows her to text with her friends back in Mexico using Internet connection only. She also uses Skype and Snapchat to connect with them. Guzman-Juaristi only uses texting to stay in touch with people in Syracuse.
Being put into a place that is unknown and unfamiliar to you can be a hard transition. “She’s still adapting to changes like clothing, the school, and the food, but overall she likes it here and believes the change is good for her. Its still hard for her but many of her new friends are helping her through it,” said Pomeroy.
Guzman-Juaristi is going to be in Syracuse for a year, so she is excited to see new places and snow for the first time. Guzman-Juaristi is going to Washington D.C this month with her host family. There they will be going on several tours around the city. During November and December she is going to New York City with her host family and friends. Guzman-Juaristi knows that being an exchange student will be difficult, but is excited for the experience of living in New York and being in America.