Foreign exchange students thriving in Pittsburgh

Zach Armstrong, Staff Writer

Every year, almost three thousand foreign exchange high school students come to America to study.  This year, North Hills High School is hosting three students: Kyra Kroger, Pablo Morcate, and Leoni Stork.  Though they all happen to be from Germany, North Hills has had students from a number of countries in the past, including China, France, and even Brazil.

Fifteen year old Kyra Kroger is from Ahrenshoop, Germany. She came here through the Rotary Youth Exchange.  “I wanted to come to America because I loved the culture,” she says. “But my favorite parts are the people and the food.”

Social worker Tim McDowell heads up the program at North Hills School District.  He says it’s a great experience for the exchange students, but it also enhances the educational experience for all students attending North Hills. “It’s a positive experience for the school, ” McDowell says.  “The acceptance of these students helps promote cultural awareness and enhances an understanding that students will be participating in the global economy and job market.  I think it helps our kids to see things in a world perspective.”

According to The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), in the last year Pennsylvania had 1,212 students come to study through an exchange program, which ranks the state ninth in the country for accepting foreign students. Many Pennsylvania students also take advantage of studying in other countries, as well.  Last year, CSIET reports 68 Pennsylvania students went to other countries to attend school temporarily. McDowell explains it doesn’t cost the district anything extra. “The visa, immunizations, paperwork, travel, and housing are all worked out by an agency,” Mr. McDowell says. All of the foreign exchange students have to demonstrate that they can speak English well enough before they are allowed to come through the exchange program.

Kyra Kroeger is hosted by the Cindy Sopher family. Sopher claims it wasn’t as difficult as she thought it would be. “I found out that having a foreign exchange student was a lot easier than actually expected. I think it went quite well.  We also enjoy listening to her call home and speak in her German language,” Sopher says.  She adds that she enjoys getting out herself and seeing new things in the Pittsburgh area, too.  “When Kyra arrived, we already had plans to show her the Pittsburgh area, ” Sopher explains. “We kept busy, and it actually gave us the motivation to go out ourselves and experience the area.”

Tim McDowell says that while the exchange program fun, it’s much more than that.  He explains that it also leads to better acceptance of differences.  “From my vantage point, I think foreign exchange students have had a tremendous experience with us. They, in turn, leave us a little more cultured with a greater understanding for the differences in international students and help our students understand diversity and international issues.”

Sopher is very impressed with Kroeger for being a good guest, great company, and a wonderful person. Sopher explains, “It amazes me that someone at age 15 can leave her home for a year and not be homesick.” Kroeger is really enjoying her experience here in America, going as far as to say, “The hardest part is knowing I can’t stay forever.”