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October 2, 2013

Roseville exchange student looks forward to year in U.S.

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

Ines Almeida, an exchange student from Portugal, stops for a photo in the Roseville High School counseling office. Almeida is spending her senior year of high school in Roseville as a way to improve her English and experience American culture.

ROSEVILLE — Ines Almeida, a Portuguese exchange student spending her senior year at Roseville High School, is looking forward to the American experience.

Almeida, 17, said she became interested in spending her final school year in the U.S. rather than her native city — and Portuguese capitol — of Lisbon in part because she wanted to experience American culture and do something on her own.

“I never came here before, but I saw (the U.S.) in the movies, and I always heard people talking about this culture and how it controls the world,” Almeida said. “I saw the high schools and everything are much bigger than in Portugal, so I wanted to see, and live, one year in this culture so I can live the American life.”

Almeida added that she was used to her parents helping facilitate everything in her life so far, and she wanted to try and get through some hurdles by herself by coming to another country. She has other practical reasons for entering the program, too — improving her English skills.

“Here, everybody speaks English, but in Portugal, everyone has to speak Portuguese and English, and for us to get work in the future, we have to speak English,” she said. “There, you need to learn English starting at 6 (years old), but their teachers aren’t so great.”

The process of coming over here started about a year ago, she said, with her convincing her parents it would be a worthwhile experience. From there, she had to interview with the ASSE International Foreign Exchange Program to determine if she would be allowed to go overseas.

Then, Almeida said, she had to write several papers about herself, followed by five weekends of preparation for the trip. It was not until August that Almeida knew that she was coming to Roseville, and she arrived the second week of September.

She said she did not know very much about the metro Detroit area, outside of some information she had read about online, but the differences — both in school and outside of it — between Roseville and Lisbon are apparent, she said.

“In Portugal, we are like a group of teenagers, and all day, we’re in the same classroom and the teachers change,” she said. “Here, the hours change, so we change classes and the teacher stays in the same classroom.”

“Here, it’s harder to make friends because, in Portugal, you’re always in the same group of 30 people, so it’s easier because one week is enough to make new friends,” Almeida continued. “Here, all the hours (have) different people and different faces, and you don’t know anyone very well.”

She said schools in Portugal also have lockers, but few students actually use them compared to the U.S. The concept of “school spirit” is also definitely American, Almeida said, adding that schools in Portugal do not really make a big deal of school sports and pride, nor do they have events like homecoming.

High School counselor Linda Dalpiaz said Almeida is the first exchange student she’s ever worked with, but working with her has been the same as any of her other students.

Dalpiaz said Roseville High School has a policy of pairing up new students with “student ambassadors,” kids who are more involved in the school and its extracurricular activities, as a way to help the new students acclimate and have their questions answered.

“We have several students with differing cultural backgrounds, and for the most part, I think students are more curious about those differences, and sometimes that is the connection to a new friendship,” Dalpiaz said. 

Portuguese schools give students two hours for their lunch break and 15 minute breaks between classes, though Almeida said that also means students do not get to leave until around 5 p.m. Accordingly, her Portuguese family has dinner at 9 p.m., while her host family in Roseville eats around 6 p.m., she said.

Almeida also noticed a difference in scale after coming here. She said stores and supermarkets are much larger in the U.S., as are cars. Most people around Lisbon also live in apartment buildings, Almeida said, while so far, she’s found houses to be the preferred American living arrangement. She added that mass transit systems are common in Portugal, but limited in metro Detroit.

Clothing and shoe sizes are different, she continued, as is the U.S.’s continued use of Imperial measurements instead of the metric system. There are also fewer fast food restaurants in Portugal, Almeida said, estimating about 10 McDonald’s restaurants in Lisbon. Rather, most people there eat home-cooked meals.

Almeida said she is interested in seeing more of what the area has to offer, starting with her own new neighborhood. She also plans on trying out for a few school activities, as well.

“I’m trying to go to the drama classes, and maybe for the cheerleaders,” Almeida said. “When I came here, the classes had started one week earlier, so I don’t know if it’s possible because I’m late, but I’m trying.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.