When international students begin the school year at Lake Orion High School, there are many unique elements.
The biggest surprise may be simply getting to school in Lake Orion. A five-minute car or school bus ride is a stunning change.
“When we get kids from large cities like Madrid and the Tokyo, sometimes they travel two hours by train to go to school,” said LOHS International Student Coordinator Michele Novak. “They think it’s so weird that American kids have cars. Parents don’t even have cars where they live because of public transportation.”
Once they’re at the school, the students embrace their opportunities.
There are 37 international students at LOHS this year, including 31 foreign exchange students, and the beginning of the school year is the most challenging part.
That’s why Novak and her team are making their best effort to acclimate the students. At a Wednesday introductory luncheon, high school associate principal Sarah Budreau stressed that they get involved, in anything from activities to sports to clubs.
“They’re connected in sports and they can participate in activities not offered in their country,” Novak said. “Our Japanese students go to school in Japan for 12 hours a day. They’re all amazed with drawing classes and photography.”
Because simply arriving as an exchange student is such an arduous process, taking a few years of applications for visas, approvals and passing English tests, their 10-month tenure is a chance to soak in American culture in and out of the classroom.
The students, from 17 countries, take U.S. government, history, math and science with the teachers making an effort to include them in the discussions. In government, they’ll often be asked to share the governmental system in their country for a contrast.
Living with community host families, the students learn about American home life as well. On Sunday, they’ll gather at a barbecue – host families and the international students – allowing everyone to interact and exchange numbers.
Novak has coordinated the program for five years, expanding its breadth and she took another step this year, hosting one of the students herself in her home.
One of her early missions is making sure the international students mingle and don’t congregate with each other, especially those who speak the same language. Novak emphatically made that point at Wednesday’s luncheon, which was followed by team building activities.
LOHS’ cafeteria/atrium area features flags from around the world. By embracing the students – who will have to return to their home countries 5-to-7 days after the school year ends – LOHS is showing its commitment to the larger world beyond its doors.
“Our district’s philosophy provides for an incredible amount of diversity,” Novak said.
For the next 10 months, those students will join the Lake Orion community – much quicker every morning than they expected.