By Sarah Tolman, F-1 High School Academic Program Coordinator

After hearing Dita speak in her impressively advanced and almost accent-free English, with such maturity, enthusiasm and charm, one would assume that she’s been studying in the U.S. for at least a year, if not more. Dita only arrived in

New York State this past January, but thanks to a warm, welcoming community of people, she has already managed to find comfort and confidence, both at school and in her homestay.

Dita, from the Czech Republic, is currently a participant on CCI Greenheart’s F-1 High School Academic Program. Students from a variety of countries are drawn to the F-1 High School Program, largely because of the opportunity to choose their school or their destination in the U.S. Dita chose her school, Allendale Columbia High School in Rochester, New York, because it was small and intimate, just like her school in her home country. Though she was nervous on her first day, it took almost no time for Dita to feel comfortable at her school.

“What I really love about Allendale is you just go and you feel like you are at home, ‘cause everyone knows you, and you are like part of a family.”

By being her outgoing self in class and participating in track and field as an extracurricular activity, Dita has made friends with other exchange students and Americans alike. On one day off from school, Dita enjoyed hanging out with her closest American friend, Carly. Carly’s parents own a local bakery, so the two girls helped out with the baking and enjoyed a delicious lunch. Dita has also shared her own food with Carly, cooking a Czech cream of spinach and Czech dumplings. They have plans to bake Czech cookies next!

Dita has formed a close bond with her host family as well. She lives with her host mother and three-year-old host brother, Neil, to whom she refers as “the little guy.” She enjoys spending girl-time with her host mother, says they have amazing talks and that she feels appreciated and very much a part of the family. When asked if she has encountered anything surprising about living with an American family, Dita recounts this:

“One thing what I didn’t expect… I took AP French class, and my host mom, she’s originally from Haiti, which means she’s fluent in French. So sometimes when we want to, we can speak French! We speak mostly English… but that’s what I really didn’t expect, because the main goal was to improve English, not to improve French, but I can do both at the same time!”

At the age of 18, Dita has already gained an important skill that many people don’t gain until later in life, if they gain it at all. She has learned to compare and analyze cultural differences between her home country and a foreign country, by experiencing both cultures first-hand. Dita describes one of these differences that she noticed when she moved here:

“Czech people are like, when they see someone having trouble, they try to pretend like they don’t see it, because they don’t want to get into trouble too. But here, like ten people ask you what’s going on and if they can help you, and they really mean it, they really want to help you.”

Dita gave a heart-warming example of this to illustrate how welcomed she has felt from the very beginning of her program.

Dita and "the little guy," her host brother, Niel.

Dita and “the little guy,” her host brother, Niel.

During her first week in the U.S., her French teacher asked if Dita missed her Mom. When Dita answered, “yes, a little bit,” the teacher said, “it’s okay, I’m your Mom here!” and gave her a hug. The friendliness from her teachers and classmates and continued support from her host mother and Local Coordinator helped Dita get through any homesickness she felt during those first few weeks. She advised any international students who are experiencing this same initial loneliness,

“Every beginning is hard. Just wait and give it time. Nobody expects you to come and be a superstar in the first week.”

Maybe it didn’t happen in the first week, but Dita has definitely become a superstar in the eyes of CCI Greenheart. She has gained independence, perspective and a newfound pride for her own Czech culture through her experience here. In addition to getting good grades and traveling to New York City, Dita hopes to gain new insights into American culture and share more about Czech culture and lifestyle with her peers and host family.

You can share your culture and become an exchange student superstar too. Click here to apply to the F-1 High School Academic Program for the 2015-2016 school year. We can’t wait to meet you!