SHS Goes International


Canal Núñez (far left) and some friends at the Harry Styles concert in Milwaukee in October. Photo submitted by Clara Canal Núñez.

In August of this year, four young people all made their way to Stoughton, Wisc. to participate in a foreign exchange program.
Last year, due to COVID-19, foreign exchange students were not permitted to come to the United States, but this year, they’re back.
Hailing from the middle of France, in the small town of Haute-Lori, junior Castille Gratas says her experience in Stoughton has been much different from her upbringing.
“In France, you can’t choose. You have general classes like math and French – it’s an obligation. Here you can choose your classes, so this is very different,” Gratas says.
Despite the differences in culture, Gratas headed into the program with goals for herself.
“I decided [to join the program to] learn English and for the American experience,” Gratas says. “[I want to] speak English and gain maturity and be independent and enjoy my time here.”

Gratas (right) and Kyanna Williamson pose together before the homecoming dance this year. Photo submitted by Castille Gratas.

The impact Gratas expects the program to have on her is tremendous.
“I’m going to be more independent because I’m living away from my family and my friends and my life,” Gratas says. ”I have a new life.”
With that new life comes new experiences.
“I remember my first football game in Madison. It was very huge, and I was very amazed by everything,” Gratas says.
Of course, with a new life comes change, as well.
“[Everything has changed] because I don’t have the same friends, same parents, the same school, same classes, or the same language. [There’s been] a lot of big changes,” Gratas says.
Clara Canal Núñez, senior and exchange student from Léon, Spain, says that coming to America has been a goal of hers for almost four years.
“In ninth grade, I went to London for a week […] I used to be really scared of going out and being responsible for myself. I didn’t know I could do it. I was kind of scared, but it was only a week, and London was really cool. I did a lot of things, and then I was like, ‘I like English. I should do this more, I should go [to] more places,’” Canal Núñez says. “I was talking one day with my best friend, and we were thinking about […] going to the United States.”
One of Canal Núñez’s favorite moments from her time in Wisconsin has been her trip to Milwaukee to see Harry Styles in concert in October.
“I actually went to that. I saw Harry Styles. We were in the same room,” Canal Núñez says. “I didn’t have that option in Spain, because he only does concerts in like two places. One of them is like four and a half hours away, and the other one is like ten.”
New, exciting experiences aside, Canal Núñez says that this program has also given her the opportunity to become independent.
“I’m more mature. You need to be mature to be here. You need to understand how to take care of yourself. Even though you’re with a family, it’s not your family. You have to pay for things yourself and take care of yourself, because the people you’re living with aren’t your parents. […] You care about them, but it’s not the same,” Canal Núñez says.
Junior Tim Hajicek is a foreign exchange student from Piešťany, Slovakia. Hajicek says that one of his dreams was to visit America.
“You always see it in movies and stuff, and it looks super cool. It was really random because we were in school and COVID was there, and my friend said he wanted to go to America, and I said I would like to go, too. I came to the conclusion that I just want to see how people live, your traditions and stuff, how your ordinary lives look,” Hajicek says. “I would say that the architecture, the roads, houses, and schools [are different]. [Stoughton] is half of our town size, and you get fast food. We don’t have McDonald’s in our city.”
Though Hajicek is grateful for the new opportunities afforded to him in the United States, being a foreign exchange student doesn’t come without its drawbacks.
“It’s a big change for me. You go to a foreign country for […] ten months. You have no physical interaction with your family. You can only see them through a video chat, you can’t even see them,” Hajicek says.
Though there are trials and tribulations that come with being an exchange student, there’s plenty of advantages, too.
“I really like football. It’s one of the things you see in movies and stuff. [Back home] nobody watches American football, because soccer is football. I also like hockey, and I also liked the classes. I like the idea that we can choose our classes. [In Piešťany] we cannot choose our classes – they’re just given to us,” Hajicek says.
Junior Charlotte Munk, an exchange student from Neckarsteinach, Germany, says that coming to America has provided her with some brand-new experiences.
“Homecoming with my host sister and friends was a memorable event because we don’t celebrate Homecoming in Germany. I also really liked [my host family’s] trip to Duluth and Chicago,” Munk says.
“[Eating Chicago pizza] was a new experience because the pizza is very different.”
Similar to the other exchange students, one of Munk’s goals for her time in Stoughton is to improve her English.
“[I want to] have a unique experience, to get over my shyness and just speak English. It can be hard sometimes, especially when you don’t know a word you need,” Munk says.
Even though being an exchange student comes with challenges, Munk says it’s an experience she’s thankful for.
“I would say I am very grateful [to have] the opportunity to do an exchange year, having such a great host family, and that SHS allowed us exchange students to come this year,” Munk says.
It’s clear, not just to Munk, but to the other exchange students as well, that their time in Stoughton has paid off.
“I now have more people I know […] and my English has improved in the last months,” Munk says. “I think it’s obvious my life has changed in different, but only good, ways.”