Three new students hope to learn about America, share their cultures

Published 9:55 am Friday, October 21, 2016

St. Aloysius High School has three fresh faces on its rolls this year.

Seniors Jorrit Willensen of the Netherlands and Leonardo Diaz Gustafsson of Sweden are spending their senior year in Vicksburg as exchange students through the American Field Service program.

Sophomore Juan Carlos Marcus Gomez of Guatemala is not an exchange student. However, he will be staying with a local family and attending St. Al through his high school years.

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“We learn from them as much as they learn from what we do,” principal Buddy Stickland said. “They are unique and interesting young people.”

Willensen and Gustafsson wanted to spend some time in America, and since they did not have a particular area of the country they specifically wanted to visit, they both left it up to chance as to where they would be placed. They learned of their placement just weeks before they left Europe.

“You can choose but we didn’t do that,” Willensen said. “So we thought we will see where we will end and that was Vicksburg, Mississippi.”

The boys did not know each other before coming to America, but met at a 10-day orientation camp with other exchange students in Mississippi. They said there are other exchange students placed in Mississippi, but they are the only two in Vicksburg.

Gomez has been at St. Al since the beginning of the school year in August, but the exchange students just started at St. Al in early October. The boys had to pay a little extra to be able to attend St. Al, but they are happy with their decision to attend the Catholic school.

“The teachers are so nice. Everything is good. You can really say that St. Al is a great school,” Gustafsson said.

Neither of the exchange students are Catholic; however, Gomez is Catholic.

Gustafsson’s reasons for wanting to come to America were simply for the experience and because he enjoys traveling.

“For me, being in another country, especially in America, you meet new people, you grow as a person and you learn a lot about yourself,” he said.

Gustafsson is in America for the first time ever, and Willenson said he has visited New York before.

Gustafsson speaks English, Spanish and Swedish all rather well. Willenson came to America only speaking Dutch, but his English has improved so much that he can hold a conversation uninterrupted. Both boys are currently learning German.

Learning English was one of the main reasons why Willenson wanted to come to America, but he also wanted to learn how Americans lived and what the differences were between America and Europe.

“It’s big difference. It’s a very big difference,” he said.

Willenson describes life in America as being like a movie. One of the biggest differences he has spotted is food. Willenson said fast food is everywhere and eating healthy is very difficult to do here. Everything from white and wheat bread to the McDonalds menu is different in America, he said.

Another difference they noted is the size of the community and the way people spend their time. In Europe they say they spend more time at their friends’ houses every day after school doing homework and hanging out, and they haven’t seen that here. In America they notice everyone goes home to their own family after school.

“Maybe that is because everybody has a bike in Europe,” Willenson said. “Here you need a car and everything is bigger.”

However, Gustafsson said eating together as a family is important in Europe whereas here no one has time to eat a meal together. He added that people work much more here than in Europe.

“People work a lot. People don’t have that much vacation,” Gustafsson said. “We have a lot of vacation.”

Willenson observed people are more arrogant in the Netherlands than here, and Gustafsson attests to the modest southern ways of Mississippi.

“People are really nice though. Southern hospitality, we learned about that,” Gustafsson said.

The boys were placed with a family to live with during their time here.

The Sudderth family has two daughters, senior Grace and sophomore Sophie.

“They do it for free. It’s a real nice gesture,” Gustafsson said.

Even though it is an adjustment, Grace loves having two new brothers live with her family.

“They really help out a lot with chores and stuff, which makes everything so much easier, but its awesome having two different types of cultures in the house,” Grace said.

The duo will leave in June to go back to Europe.

Gomez is still working on his English, and his family in Vicksburg, Dr. and Mrs. Brian McGowan, speak Spanish with him. Gustafsson helped translate what Gomez had to say about his experiences in America.

“(Gomez) is going to study here,” Gustafsson said. “He came over here from Guatemala on his own, and then a church took care of him. Then they found two parents who adopted Juan Carlos.”

While almost all of his experiences here have been a bit of a culture shock for him, Gomez said everything is good in Vicksburg and he likes it here.

“He likes the restaurants,” Gustafsson said. “He likes school too.”