September 23, 2018
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‘Not rude people at all’: Exchange students reflect on start of school year in Maine

Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
New international exchange students at Traip Academy in Kittery, from left: Lisa Politz of Germany; Alessandro Pulzato of Italy; Lelaina Abrecht of Switzerland; Matteo Tabbuso of Belgium; and Arnaud Bouteille, also of Belgium.
By Hadley Barndollar, Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — At Wednesday’s Traip Academy orientation for new students, most were simply becoming acquainted with an unfamiliar building in a town they’ve resided in for years.

But for five of those students, the orientation came as they completely orient to a new country.

The flags of Italy, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland currently hang in Traip’s front foyer to welcome this year’s international exchange students, who will live with host families in Kittery and Kittery Point for the next 10 months. They’ll play sports, sharpen their English skills, make new friends and navigate a culture quite different from their own.

“I like this place so far,” said 17-year-old Alessandro Pulzato of Italy. “Feels like a family.”

[2 men walking from Iowa to Maine say they’ve discovered ‘Americans are pretty nice people’]

The students each came to the United States through various exchange programs, but all found themselves at Traip.

“I think the culture is different,” said 17-year-old Matteo Tabbuso of Belgium. “I live with a family who they are careful about what they are eating, what they are spending money for. People are very nice. People say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome.’ Not rude people at all.”

Arnaud Bouteille, 18, and also of Belgium, said he is getting acquainted with “American football,” and will play on the Traip Academy soccer team. Soccer is big in Belgium, he said.

“There is a lot of sports around school, lots of clubs,” Bouteille said of the United States. “In Belgium, if you want to do sports, it’s in a sport club, it’s not in school.”

Lisa Politz, 16, of Germany, said she enrolled in the exchange program to improve her English skills. She was inspired to do so after she took a trip last year to the United States with her family and “met really nice people.”

[Another Maine academy makes cuts as international student numbers dip]

The exchange students are also getting used to living with their host families. Many of them are living with siblings.

“It’s a new experience to live with two younger brothers,” said Lelaina Abrecht, 15. “I just have a younger sister in Switzerland.”

“The beginning is very difficult because you live with strangers, you don’t know the people,” Tabbuso said. “You kind of feel homesick at the beginning, but after, you feel really part of the family. You do chores, you cook, you set the table, you clean the table, do something for the family. The family is really, really nice.”

When asked if they’d been to the ocean yet in their time on the Seacoast, the students’ faces lit up and they harmoniously said, “It’s beautiful!”

Abrecht said “the water is so warm,” but Tabbuso didn’t agree. “Warm?” he laughed.

Tabbuso said in Belgium, bakeries are a part of daily life, as well as the purchase of fresh bread. “Here, we just buy bread at a grocery store,” he said.

Politz pointed out there’s “mostly white bread here,” and in Germany, they eat “darker” bread.

[Maine schools say toxic political climate is driving away international students]

As far as school goes, the students were looking forward to diving into several different subjects, more than what is offered in their home countries.

“Teachers are friendly here,” Pulzato said. “In Italy, you have minimal contact with teachers.”

In Germany, Politz said, there isn’t such thing as “school spirit,” so she was most looking forward to experiencing that sense of community at Traip.

“It’s just great to be here,” she said. “It’s so nice that our host families would host us for 10 months.”

Tabbuso called himself “very thankful” for the experience and school year ahead.

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