Lexi Arlen arrives in South Africa

Lexi 2I’m attending Penryn College in Nelspruit, South Africa. It was wonderful to see my exchange student again, Crystal Daniel, and to finally meet her whole family.  Crystal stayed with my family from the end of March till the end of April of 2016 when she was on exchange at Athenian. I’ve been in South Africa about a week-and-a-half and I’m already having an amazing time.

Penryn and Athenian are very different. My first day at Penryn was the 19th of July. The day before that I got my uniform, which was already a huge difference. I’ve never worn a uniform before, so the concept is still very new to me. I thought I would love wearing a uniform because I would not have to make any decisions in the morning. Even though it is easier to get dressed, the uniform is never weather appropriate. It is freezing cold at five in the morning and wearing a skirt in that weather is not fun. That is another huge difference: everything starts much earlier here. School starts at 7:30. Add on an hour commute to school and it means waking up and going to bed very early.

Lexi 1My first Penryn experience was at the school chapel, where they have their “morning meetings.” For those who don’t know me, I am not a religious person and so praying together with the whole school is totally new to me. Penryn is also fairly preppy and very formal. Almost every class begins with the students standing in front of their desks. Then the teacher walks in the room and says, “Good morning class.” Then the students say, “Good morning mam.” This is followed by the teacher permitting the class to sit down. The student-teacher relationships at Penryn are so different than Athenian. At Athenian students and teachers like to see each other as equals and I think that makes the two groups respect each other more. At Penryn students would never think about being friends with their teachers. This definitely has rekindled my love for Athenian. There is also much more discipline at Penryn. Students can get detention for not doing their homework! And on my first day one boy was sent home because his hair was too long.

The school is also a little more cliquey than Athenian. Crystal is part of a great group of 18 friends. Having so many people in their friend group was a little intimidating at first, especially because I’m not the best with names. However, they all welcomed me into their group and I’ve grown so much closer to all of them after just one week. When Crystal has school meetings or sports I am totally fine hanging out with her friends because they are all so friendly and welcoming. Attending Penryn has made me appreciate Athenian more and I’m also so thankful to have made so many friends already.

Lexi 5I really haven’t had any challenges adjusting to South African life. Crystal’s family and friends welcomed me in like one of their own and I’m so thankful for that. Adjusting to the religious aspect of the area has been a little difficult but also really interesting. At my first meal with just the Daniel family, I made the mistake of putting ketchup on my food and getting ready to eat, not realizing that the family says grace before every meal. I can now also say that I’ve prayed in class more than once. This is not something that I agree with for many reasons. First, not everyone believes in the same religion. Second, it forces students to hide their faith if they are not Christian. Third, in my opinion, school should be for learning and not a place to practice religion. However, religion fascinates me so I’m happy to learn about and experience the religious culture.

Lexi 3The only other challenge I’ve had was on my first day of school. I’m a gymnast and I need to practice while I’m on exchange. It turned out that a girl in grade 10 at Penryn also does gymnastics. Before coming to South Africa, I arranged so that I could practice with her. My first day of school was also my first day of gymnastics. The girl, Ashley, was going to arrive late that day so I was all on my own. To make matters worse, I found out upon arriving at the gym, that it is an Afrikaans gym, meaning that the gymnasts there primarily speak Afrikaans. I do not speak a word of Afrikaans. That made me a little nervous. But, I ended up having the best time at gymnastics! All the gymnasts spoke English, some better than others, but at least I could understand them. They all had so many questions about America and what we call different gymnastics moves and what kind of food we eat and what we do on the weekends. All the levels warm up together and everyone wanted to stretch next to me because there was someone new in the gym. They were so eager to show me around the gym and help me if I didn’t understand the Afrikaans. What I thought was going to be challenging ended up being one of my best experiences on exchange so far! I’m so excited to continue to learn and love the culture around me.

Lexi 4Today I happened to run into two other Athenian students at a restaurant in Graskop. I ran into Sonya Ahn and Ethan Gross, who are on the Round Square International Service project in South Africa. It was so weird but also completely amazing to accidentally see Athenians on the other side of the world. What a crazy coincidence!

I am looking forward to all the great memories yet to come on my exchange in South Africa. I’m already dreading the day I have to go home!