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Czech student adjusting to and enjoying Orion

October 19, 2011 - By Olivia Shumaker

Special Writer for The Review

It may not be the United Nations, but Lake Orion High School is home to a large group of exchange students this year.

Among them is junior Anna Vetrovcova from Prague in the Czech Republic, a European country sharing a border with Germany.

She is staying with the Kreutzer family of Lake Orion through the exchange student organization Youth for Understanding and has been in the United States for two months. She is staying here for the full school year.

Vetrovcova studied English for seven years before coming to America.

"We have to learn English starting in the third grade, and from sixth grade onward it's usually required to learn another language," Vetrovcova said. To improve her English before traveling to the United States, she read English books and watched movies in our language.

Back home, Vetrovcova's private school—smaller than most Czech schools—has approximately 200 students, with eight grades in the whole building, she said. This amounts to approximately 25 people per grade level, with each grade in one class.

Prague, the capitol of the Czech Republic, is "a beautiful city in a historic way," Vetrovcova said. "We have a lot of historic monuments and castles."

With one million people situated in close quarters, the typical home living space is considerably smaller than in the United States, she noted.

In addition, public transportation is common enough that cars are available, but not necessary, and driveways and garages are nonexistent. So, host mother Gigi Kreutzer explained it was a funny change for Vetrovcova to come here and have to rely on the Kreutzers to get anywhere, unlike in Prague where parents are not so omnipresent.

"The value for other kids would be to understand that even though they're the same age, life is different," Kreutzer said. This included a cultural quirk the host family learned from Vetrovcova: using the same dishes all day.

"Anna said to us, 'At home, you get one cup out, and it's the cup you use until the next day.' So you put it somewhere and use it throughout the day," explained Kreutzer, recognizing there is a greater concern over protecting the environment in Europe.

In Lake Orion, Vetrovcova keeps her cup and plate in a certain place, and the Kreutzers take it in stride.

"If you understand why they do certain things, that's an education in itself to be more tolerant," Kreutzer said.

As the Kreutzers know, and Vetrovcova can explain, there are cultural differences between exchange students and local students that many people do not comprehend. Lake Orion students in Prague would experience the unfamiliarity that Vetrovcova deals with here.

"It would be weird for kids to go to Prague and be independent, going with public transportation and all these things, because they are just not used to it," Vetrovcova said.

Vetrovcova said her classes in Prague are very different than in the United States. She was surprised at Lake Orion classes play games. At home, students never play games in any of her classes. They are not even allowed to talk much, let alone listen to iPods or use cell phones in class, she said.

In Prague, students treat school as an educational institution only. Unlike Lake Orion High School, which has nearly every extracurricular activity that anyone could imagine, in Prague you have to join a club if you want to play an instrument or a sport, and there is not always time. There is one American football club in Prague, with about 20 students, she said.

Even going to dances is a different experience for her. Though Prague schools have prom, they do not have Homecoming, and do not dance the way American teenagers do. Instead, they take classical dancing lessons, and would use these lessons at the dance because the music is jazz instead of mainstream music. Instead of buying newdresses for a dance, girls rent them and return them the next day, and they do not go to a hair dresser.

Vetrovcova said how strange it seemed toher to buy a dress only to wear it for one night, "and then have it sit in the back of your closet for the rest of your life."

In the meantime, Vetrovcova plans to make the most of her first time in America, learning the culture beyond a textbook, coming to understand why Americans behave the way we do, and hopefully seeing a few famous American cities, like New York.

"All I knew about America was from the movies, and I was wondering my whole life if it's true," she said. "That's why I wanted to go to America - because it's so far away and I would never have a chance to go again."

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