By Nancy China Olemgbe
16-year-old Nancy Chika Olemgbe is a foreign exchange student from Hamburg, Germany, who has been studying at Gulfport High School since the beginning of the school year. Here, she shares her story and reflects on her journey.
Experiencing other cultures when you live in Europe is not difficult because there are so many other countries close by. I have grown up traveling, even to Africa, but I always have dreamed of going farther, which made studying abroad an easy decision.
However, the idea of studying abroad now came from a place of pain. I lost my mother when I was 6, and my father passed away last year. I thought a change could give me a chance to escape the constant reminders of what I had lost and give me a place to heal. I am thankful that I had a wonderful foster family in Germany around me who made my exchange happen, and I feel blessed to have had them supporting me despite being thousands of miles away.
Choosing the United States for my study abroad was a no-brainer because everyone wants to experience the American life they see in the movies. After being here for almost four months, I can say that many things that aren’t what I expected, and yet many are. My friends from home love hearing stories from my high school, and I say my high school because I feel like I am truly a part of this community.
Being a stranger in a strange land, it is always nice to find something familiar. I have taken French since elementary school, so I knew it would be a class where I wouldn’t feel completely lost. It is by far the most exciting part of my day. I have become close with my classmates and my French teacher because they are obviously interested in learning about other cultures, and I love sharing mine with them.
Doing a year abroad is not just studying in another country, but also living with a host family who make cultural habits a part of everyday life. The U.S. always has been a large and diverse travel destination that you can’t fully experience with a simple vacation. This was one reason I decided to have a whole year of adventures and experiences here.
Many Americans wonder how I speak English so fluently despite coming from a country where a completely different language is spoken.
The answer is that I grew up speaking and learning English and have been learning it at school since the third grade. I’m here to expand my knowledge and get to know the language as used by native speakers.
In my time here, I’ve found that the U.S. is full of life, as well as different cultures, languages and beautiful cities — but above all, people. I was welcomed openly and warmly by everyone I have met so far.
Through basketball and volleyball, two sports I had never played before, I met great and lovely people who helped me make friends. This not only has made me feel welcomed, but I also count these activities among my favorites here so far, and I enjoy practice every day. Additionally, experiencing New York City at the beginning of my exchange was a highlight for me, since it’s the city everyone wants to visit one day. What made it special for me was seeing people from all over the world in one place.
To others who are considering studying in the U.S., I would say keep an open mind. Everyone hears about New York and L.A. and other well-known cities, so they may be reluctant to travel to a less well-known place like Gulfport. I know other students who are studying in larger cities, and they are not having the same experience. The hospitality I have been shown is something I will never forget.
That warm welcome makes me feel so good that I hardly want to leave. I am grateful for each of the incredible people I have met, who have ensured that I hardly had time to get homesick. I haven’t had one day yet when I’ve regretted my decision. I’m here for a reason, and I realize every day that I am in the right place.