It was six years ago when Isabella Fouché, then 10, took her first flight by herself, flying from her town in South Africa to a camp near the country’s coast. Since then, she has continued to develop her love of traveling and new adventures abroad, visiting destinations such as Italy, Dubai, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and most recently – the Catskills. Eight weeks ago, she boarded a 15-hour flight from South Africa to New York to attend Monticello High School as a foreign exchange student.
While it was not Isabella’s first trip to New York, it was nonetheless a completely different experience living as a typical American high school student. American students were a lot less formal with their teachers. Classroom doors led to hallways, instead of outside. Students were more apt to cheer on a basketball game, instead of watching net ball or rugby. And of course – snow days – a completely foreign concept to a citizen of a country where the temperature rarely dips below 20 degrees.
After spending eight weeks as a Monticello High School student, Isabella closed out her experience with her classmates by sharing a presentation that she created on her home country during Tim Potts’ US History and Government Regents class.
“We haven’t had an exchange student here at Monticello in many years,” Mr. Potts said. “It’s a wonderful experience not just for Isabella, but for our students and staff here in Monticello. Since I have met her, I’ve ordered a bunch of books and watched a lot of videos about South Africa. It’s different learning about a new place from a person who lives there – it broadens your understanding beyond surface level.”
Isabella’s presentation covered the history of South Africa’s establishment, and she was able to point out the parallels of the Dutch’s colonization of the country with the Dutch’s colonization of New York. She described examples of some of her favorite South African cuisine. She shared photographs of the beautiful countryside that attracts tourists from all over the world. She taught about the country’s currency and how a South African rand doesn’t stretch as far as an American dollar does. She compared cultural differences between South Africa and America – how a South African hike differs from an American hike (an American hike is more of a walk, whereas a South African hike involves at least a full day and a backpack), how South Africans spend more time outdoors than their American counterparts, South African teens are more apt to interact with each other in person, while in her experience, American teens are more apt to connect online. At the close of her presentation, students were invited to ask questions.
“The students here have all been very kind to me and I made new friends that I plan to keep in touch with” she said. “I would definitely encourage them to visit South Africa – it is a beautiful country and a huge tourist destination.”
Before she heads home, Isabella plans on doing some shopping for her family and friends, picking up Oreos, Reeses and Sour Patch Kids.
“You guys have the best chocolates and candies,” she explained.
This will likely not be Isabella’s last trip to the U.S. She hopes to study law and criminal justice at an American university in the future. She credits her parents and her culture with her thirst for adventure.
“My parents wanted me to experience the rest of the world at a young age and have always encouraged me to be independent,” she said. In South Africa, we are obsessed with the world. We have a lot of immigrants; a lot of visitors and we are a very diverse nation – even traveling within the country you get to meet people from all over the world – and we learn about the world from those experiences.”