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An Exchange Student's Perspective

Hanafia stands with her host family with a sign that says, "Hanifa welcome to America"

Hanafia Arsad (YES 2021-22, Phillippines, placed by AFS-USA in Alexandria, VA) is a staff writer at Theogony, her host school’s newspaper. Here's an excerpt from her recent article, “POV of an Exchange Student from the Philippines." 

"August 9, 2021, it still feels like yesterday when I hopped out of the plane and got excited to explore American life.

Going to a new country at the age of 16 is scary but at the same time overwhelming. A new environment, new people to socialize with, new weather and food to adjust to. But my host family, liaison Mrs. Sharon Bliss, exchange sister, and friends made it so much easier.

I felt what “HOME” really is with my amazing host family, both retired military personnel who have five children and have been host parents for 13 years, from 2009-2022, to students from all around the world: Germany, India, Bangladesh, Albania, Israel, Thailand, Philippines and many others. I am in a double placement with Kasmee Lohsa from Thailand. My host family's house is called the “Hillside Station” because they are like a train station where people show up, stay, and become part of the growing family.

My host family took me to a lot of places and gave me the chance to see different states.  I’ve been all around Virginia, Washington, District of Columbia, Universal Studios and Disney World in Florida, Boston, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York City, Puerto Rico and many others. I got the chance to do things I never tried before like surfing, scuba diving, horseback riding, and skiing. I experienced my first snow. When school got canceled because of a strong winter storm, I got the chance to play in the snow, take photos, go sledding, build a snowman, and answer the curiosity in my mind of what does snow taste like.

It is a big adjustment to be part of the 4000+ students of Alexandria City High School from a small high school-- Naga National High School, Philippines. Everyone is different, there is so much diversity. I have never encountered so many unique people in my life that go to one school. During the first day of school, I still didn’t know where my classes were, I got lost because the school is very huge, I didn’t know anyone so I didn’t know what to do. I was always thinking if I should make a first move but later on I gained a lot of friends. 

Hanafia poses Outside Alex City high school
A pose outside the ACHS building on the first day of school

The school system is so different from my home country. It’s enjoyable that I am taking Journalism and Drama classes. I am part of the Distinguished Honor Roll. I got involved in sports. I did the tryouts and I am now part of the AC JV-Girls Lacrosse team. Being part of a school sports team is a nice way to meet new people. We don’t have lacrosse in the Philippines, so I had no idea what it was. But I went to the pre-season practice and the coaches and all the girls there were welcoming. I never really got homesick because the people that I met here are so great that they made me feel what it’s like to be loved and they are making sure that I am okay. My friends took me out to a concert, movie nights, shows, sports games, restaurants, wandering around DC, road trips, shopping and we are still making memories that I am pretty sure that I will forever cherish.

I also met a lot of exchange students that are hosted here in the states. We have Sponsored Program events where we have the chance to talk, socialize and also learn about their culture. I learned so many things from different people from different worlds that have different perspectives. 

Hanafia points out where the Philippines is on a map while wearing traditional attire
Giving presentations during International Education Week

International Education Week (IEW) was the week where I had the chance to do a presentation while wearing a Filipiniana (Philippine national costume). It’s an honor and privilege to present in front of a diverse audience. I let them try some Filipino snacks and I had the chance to cook Adobo for my host family and Lumpia – a Filipino version of spring rolls-- for my Girl Scout Troop.

“Do you have buildings in the Philippines?”  “Is the Philippines part of Europe?” “How has American colonization impacted the Philippines?” I received a lot of questions when they found out that I am an exchange student and I am from the Philippines, yet I received more compliments from my classmates, friends, and teachers because of my English skills.

Hanafia presents Filipino ojects at the School Culture Bazaar
Cultural Bazaar organized by the student leadership class

Being away from what I used to be is not a bad idea; it was a risk but it turned into the greatest decision I made in my life. I became more confident, gained so much knowledge as it changed my point of view in all ways. I definitely found myself."

Read Hanafia's full article here.


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