By Maksim Kirandjiski (YES 2021-2022, North Macedonia, placed by AYA in Corning, NY)
Before I was an international exchange student, I had preconceived notions about what a typical American high school experience was like, especially from media like TV shows, movies, and books. There’s the football team and the cheerleaders, the hallway lockers which some kid gets shoved into, the cafeteria where kids split into their own groups, science projects, and exploding beakers… In other words, I believed in stereotypes. But just how many of them, if any, are true?
In my experience, some of them are true. The football team, for example, was well-known and loved throughout my high school. Going to the football games every Friday felt like a must, as it was one of the main ways to spend time with your friends and meet new people after school. However, I noticed a difference from the stereotypes: all the football players were kind and respectful, not like the bullies they are sometimes portrayed as in popular culture. Instead, I saw that they got along well with everyone and made sure to help out in any way they could, especially when it meant standing up for someone.
The actual classes are also something that’s often misunderstood in popular culture. While it's true that we had labs and practical experiments for physics and chemistry, and, in fact, sometimes things did explode), that’s what I loved about the US education system! They insisted on teaching us theoretical concepts through real-world means, and they would test us on this knowledge through lab reports about our experiment. Yes, some subjects weren’t as thrilling and had me counting the seconds until the bell rang, but those were the minority. It's worth mentioning that my school had a wide selection of subjects that I hand-picked into my schedule, such as forensics, graphic design, music theory, computer science, and philosophy. There seemed to be a subject for the passion of every student.
After the football season died down, the school plays became the go-to, after-school social event (at least, before the start of basketball season). At my school, all the drama club members were hard workers and practiced day and night to get their moves just right, their notes on the pitch, and their lines memorized. I know this because I was in a play myself! When I performed, there was a jump rope sequence included in a scene where three people had to tap dance and jump over a rope at the same time! Our peers loved it, and we got a lot of praise and support.
I also really enjoyed going on field trips. For our field trips, we would go somewhere as an entire class and learn about something related to our classes, like on a boat ride to analyze water plankton or at a NASCAR track to see how they market the races. Getting on the school bus was always exciting and very loud, especially at the back, where all the kids would laugh and crack jokes.
The most memorable events for me were, without a doubt, the school dances. Everyone would dress up in nice clothes, anxiously seek out dates, be relieved when they get them, and awkwardly dance at the beginning before busting out their best moves near the end. In my opinion, it’s the magic surrounding the experience that makes it truly special. In other words, it seemed like we cared about the school dance because it was important, but it was important because we cared about it.
Overall, I enjoyed my high school experience. Some of my favorite memories were getting our first snow day off from school, trips to the amusement park, and shenanigans in PE. Indeed, some of the stereotypes aren't true. Generalizing high school in the U.S. would be unwise, as it varies so much from state to state. However, what stays the same is that young, ambitious teenagers enjoy the best years of their lives (or, in my case, the best year of my life) in high school.