Congrats Semester 1 Grads!

Before students left for Winter Break, we took a moment to recognize five students who are wrapping up their time at St. Paul Prep and earning their diplomas at the end of the semester.

goodgrad
From L to R: Minh, Hayla, Tony, Julie, and Quang

Though the end of the semester is not officially over until January 26, two of our students, Hayla and Tony, have completed final projects and tests before the break, so they won’t be back.

Students graduating is always a bittersweet time, and this fine group of scholars makes the goodbyes even tougher. But we wish them all the best in the future, and we thank them for all they have done while attending SPP. #ForeverFalcons

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Advisor’s Angle: The Internet: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Janel Cook 2017crop.jpgBy Student Advisor Janel Cook

The Good
The internet provides many opportunities for people to communicate with one another via social networks, online games, phone calls, texting, etc. The aspects to this connectivity are the ability to easily contact friends and family who live in other states or countries, exposure to people and places across the world, and access to international news events as they are happening. Students can easily keep in contact with family and friends back home while living in the U.S.—and probably for free! This is a big change from years past when cell phones and internet did not exist, and phone calls made to other countries were very costly and rare.

The Bad
The internet, social networks, and online games are all ways that keep people engaged with their (sometimes multiple) electronic devices for hours a day, sometimes to a degree that is not healthy for the mind, body, or real life relationships.

Students who have constant contact with friends and family back home tend to be more homesick and not enjoy their time in America simply because they are not allowing themselves the time to build relationships here. If students choose to spend all of their free time on the internet instead of interacting with their Host Families and friends, this will interfere with having a successful exchange experience.

It is acceptable to use the internet, social networks, and online games occasionally as a stress reliever or as a social activity, but it is important to balance free time with other activities that are not dependent upon the internet.

The Ugly
Sometimes people forget that extra-curricular time online is a choice, because they begin to depend on checking or updating statuses, gaming with virtual friends, viewing pornography, etc. as determinants for personal happiness. These online habits become unhealthy (and verge on addiction) when daily life necessities such as: proper hygiene, eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and exercise are frequently ignored. It can also be deemed unhealthy when students start to neglect and not put time and effort into real life relationships.

If someone begins to suffer physical pain (a sore neck, aching wrists, strained eyes, etc.) from excessive internet use/ gaming, it is safe to say that is not healthy and habits need to change in order to have a happier, healthier exchange experience.

Advisor’s Angle: All Americans Live in Mansions

Janel Cook 2017

By Student and Host Family Advisor Janel Cook

A stereotype is defined as a non-factual assumption about individuals or a group of people. Stereotypes can be positive or negative and can pertain to race, religion, gender, occupation, age, culture, and more.

Everyone around the world holds stereotypes to some degree. Some are conscious and some are subconscious. Many factors influence stereotypical thinking, including: culture, communities, religion, advertising, movies, TV Shows, music, celebrities, news, etc.

For example, some commonly held stereotypes about Americans are that we are loud and arrogant, we eat a lot of fast food (particularly McDonald’s and pizza), and everything in the U.S. is large compared to other countries (i.e. houses, streets, cars, yards, food portions, and people).

Pop Culture Collage

St. Paul Prep students are influenced by American pop culture well before they arrive on program. They have probably watched American films or TV shows, listened to American music, and read about American celebrities and/or politics. That exposure has most likely influenced their ideas of the United States as a whole.

One of our goals is to foster international understanding between cultures. Every student who decides to participate in one of our programs is deciding to live in the U.S., which means they will come face-to-face with the reality of life in the U.S., and therefore, with any stereotypes that they hold about Americans and the United States of America.

Host Families are in the same position. They volunteer to host a student from a specific country. The student arrives and perhaps it is different than expected. Ultimately, both sides are faced with the realities of each other and must learn to allow one another to be who they are as individuals. Sometimes reaching full cultural understanding takes a while, depending on how strongly assumptions are held by each party.

Cultural exchange is a wonderful opportunity for students, Host Families, and SPP staff to challenge what we think is true, which is an important factor in breaking down stereotypes. Through these experiences, we grow more knowledgeable to the realities of cultural exchange. What an enriching experience to share with one another!

A Crisis At Home While Abroad

fullsizerender-8In my first blog post, I explained how I got to SPP and why I wanted to leave my city in Venezuela so badly; however, what I didn’t mention is why my parents wanted me to leave just as much as I did.

I would love to explain to you more in depth the roots of my nation’s issues, but as a person who deplores politics (probably because of my experience), I don’t feel like a have a voice in this matter; however, I can tell you what it was like living under such regime.

These past few years have been of profound crisis for my country; inflation increases daily -sometimes even 500% within a week. There’s scarcity of every product you can think of, and I dare to call it one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Luckily, my family has not been as heavily affected as other unfortunate families, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share the pain.

Years ago, I remember people being so happy you could always feel a kind and zealous vibe around, but these last two years specially, crisis reached its brink and people are simply miserable.

As inflation keeps rising, people don’t have any money of actual value to buy anything. You see them wandering in the streets looking for something to eat inside garbage bags, you see them desperately waiting for a mango to fall from its enormous tree, you see them starving to death. And when they can actually afford products, they form interminable lines under the 104 °F sun hitting right at you; all the wait so when they actually enter the supermarket everything is gone. Two years ago my mom picked me up at 3am from a party, and on my way home I still remember looking at hundreds, maybe thousands of people already lined up outside the market waiting for it to open the next day. “It is absurd,” I said to my mom, but then she replied, “Vale, in times of crisis and need people behave irrationally to find a way to survive.”

I guess she was right, but a lot of them also supported the government during the elections, so watching them lose their dignity caused me more anger than sadness.

But anyways, other than our economy, when we are not dying from starvation, we are getting killed in the streets. Human lives became so incredibly worthless for criminals; it is not good enough for them to just steal from you, they have the urge to also kill you.

My parents feared my stay in Venezuela; I was in too much danger so they sent me here, but that did not take any of my preoccupation away. Weeks ago my country became an official dictatorship, and our citizens have been protesting ever since, but it only makes me more and more psychotic about what will happen. What has been the beginning of May for me? I have nightmares that wake me up in the dawn at least once a week. I know that the impression I give at school is of a very happy and positive person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not being internally consumed.

I might be theoretically out of danger here in the U.S. but knowing that my family is still there, taking every risk I am avoiding, keeps me from evading the fear, anxiety, and pain anyway. Honestly, do you want to know why I came here? I was pushed away by the government from the most beautiful land and people I’ve ever seen who have now turned miserable and mediocre by the evil in power. The thing I hope the most right now is for the government to finally be overthrown by the protesters today and go back to my home tomorrow and happily read headlines in every newspaper “Millions of Venezuelans all around the world go back to their home land.”

A Step Forward

fullsizerender-8By current SPP student Valeria from Venezuela

Since 8th grade, I’ve been looking forward to graduation day; to finally step out of school and enter college; to study things I care about, and to surpass the limitations I was given in my previous schools. However, in senior year I felt different.

“You’re too immature, Valeria. Too immature, too young, and too dependent on your parents for you to leave to college,” a little voice whispered inside my head.

During the first two months of my stay in St. Paul, I was struck with the realization I was not prepared to enter this new phase of my life. It all started at the beginning of the first semester last fall. The story goes a little something like this:

I was clueless as to what university I wanted to go to, nostalgic of my family and culture, out of my elements in class, dispirited in my only A.P course, and consumed by preoccupation over standardized testing for colleges. The weight of my responsibilities kept sinking me to the bottom as I drowned on my own. I had never struggled in my life without having someone to make it better, as I grew up in a collectivist culture. For quite a while, I thought that I had lost that here, until one day as I sat alone studying for the SAT, one of my teachers took the initiative to help me out a little. Every day that I sat down with him, I sighed of relief; his sincere willingness to help me without receiving anything in return was heart-warming. His advice not only brought tranquility to my soul, but gave me strength to stay persistent. I was no longer alone.

In addition, later on Vicky came into my life. I had gone to our school counselor Ms. Hill several times, however what I wanted her to do for me would have required the use of too much of her time, considering that she had to guide 63 other seniors (some that might be even more lost than me in such a labyrinth).

Ms. Hill, being the consummate professional that she is, sensed I was lost at sea, and so she reined me in back to shore. She gave me a small, fairly mundane, contact card with the name “Vicky” sprawled in simple black lettering (little did I know the impact that small, mundane card would have on my college search). Vicky is a former SPP counselor and Advanced English Composition teacher who left her teaching job for a job as a lawyer; still, she spends her free time helping students in my situation.

I still had a sea of colleges to pick and choose from, and yet the question remained, where would I really fit in? Which one would have the best broadcast journalism program? Which one would have the biggest diversity of cultures? Which one this? Which one that? Which one? Vicky helped me figure all this out by making me form my own conclusions.

I had to re-start my college search, only this time with her there, over my shoulder guiding me. To be frank, I was irritated that I’d have to start the search process all over again from scratch, but looking back it was probably the best thing that I could have done. When I was on my own, I let my own bias for big name schools get in the way of what I was really looking for, and began to apply to colleges that offered a curriculum I did not even want or would not even be helpful for my desired career.

Can you imagine? Going to a college I don’t like, far away from my family and home (which was a sacrifice I guess I was willing to make) and coping with the stress of college life who knows how. I was well on my way to imploding because of how unprepared I was for college, the concept of adult independence was still new to me and I wouldn’t have an altruistic teacher to guide me anymore. Thanks to Vicky, all the self-destruction was spared.

Vicky also made me understand the one thing that kept on adding weight on my shoulders. This whole time, I had been looking for some sort of emotional shelter within my Host Family and I failed in my attempts. I told Vicky the story of how I couldn’t find emotional comfort with them, and she said, “Valeria, you cannot go to a hardware store and expect to buy raisins, you have to go to a grocery store for that. What you are looking for is something they might not be able to provide you with, because they are simply not used to it. There will be other people, like your teacher, that will make your experience unique and fascinating, leaving a mark in your heart.”

And she was right, I was looking in the wrong places. My Host Family had been great, but they were not the ones that would give me the affection and support I craved. Emotionally, the burden was off my back as I stopped making my Host Family into something they were not: my actual family or any Venezuelan. I finally understood I couldn’t force them to act like my culture does.

A month later, I was in Ashburn, Virginia spending Christmas with my family and finally finishing my college applications. All the stress was gone, but something was still aching. Was I really satisfied with my decisions?…I think I wasn’t.

I left my father’s family living in Ashburn for a few days to visit my mother’s sister in Washington D.C. Her name is Carmen Beatriz, but I always called her Aunty Triz. I hadn’t seen her in years because Venezuela’s situation forced her (along with many other relatives and friends) to leave me. We had a great time together, but the clock was ticking and it was time for me to go back to Ashburn.

As we were getting closer and closer to Ashburn, anxiety kept taking over me and when I had to say goodbye I shattered. That’s what had been bugging me this whole time. Ever since September all the way to that cold night in December, I realized I was unsatisfied because I will never be able to live in peace If I am away from the warm people I love and the culture that shaped every aspect of my personality. Although the Universities I applied to were the best options when it came to the education they would provide; wasn’t my personal happiness a huge factor to consider as well? I never thought about it because I did not think it was a thing that would bother me. I had always been a happy person, but I wasn’t in the culture that I’m from; the one that truly brings me internal peace and enamors me more each day of my existence.

That night was a massive paradox to me, I was broken and cured. It cleared my blurred vision and I realized what I’d wanted this whole time: great education near my family. What a better place for that than Colombia? The most similar country to Venezuela that offers me infinite opportunities and a near location to my precious home. Today, I see clearly what I want, and feel immensely grateful for my teacher, who will always have a place in my heart, Vicky, and my school SPP. Without them I would have made the wrong decisions and postponed my happiness and inner serenity. Moreover, SPP, its passionate staff, and my experience with them taught me how to manage my time, control stress, work hard independently, but most importantly prepare me for the next phase of my life.

Guest Blogger Aleksander: Tabula Rasa (Part 1)

IMG_1513When I came to America, I was like a clean slate. I both knew a lot, and I did not. I knew how to function as a person, but I didn’t know what it was like to live across the ocean from your parents. That was one of those things I had to learn the hard way. I was both afraid and excited. Luckily for me, excitement was stronger than fear. Quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It’s the same thing with the first days at a new school. As soon as you stop fearing the unreasonable, you advance. Your development goes forward.

In the beginning, I started off my guest blogging keeping it light and easy. In the end, however, I have decided to keep it real. There are enough light and easy “my year in USA” type of posts already. These type of posts are supposed to make friends and everybody you know jealous. If that’s what you have expected, then you might wanna close this page.

You have decided to stay? Good, let me continue then.

There are very few nights when I don’t regret the things that I did/didn’t do during my exchange. First and foremost, I realized too late that I’d only have this opportunity once. Much too late. My first Host Family lived in West St. Paul, Minnesota; a place perfect as a base for trips. My second Host Family lived in Bloomington, Minnesota; a place far worse to start trips from. Most of the Host Families took their students to various places, even to different states. Mine didn’t bother with that, but it’s fine. It’s not something I could have demanded. Nevertheless, I had to think about visiting the most popular spots in the Twin Cities alone, which I did not. Mostly, I preferred to stay in my safe zone: my Host Family’s house. By the end of the year I had seen some cool places, like the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis, so it’s not all that bad. I do regret staying at home then. I know I should have pushed myself.

Along with not visiting places, I did not hang out with friends and colleagues often. Now I know I should have been doing that. Although that doesn’t mean that I didn’t make friends at all. I just regret I didn’t meet them face to face when I had the opportunity to do so. If you’re having some questions about what happens after you come back home – let me clear some things up. You’re most probably not going to see your friends from abroad again soon. Of course, I am not saying that you won’t be able to right away. From my experience, though, it’s not very likely to happen. I visited my a girlfriend (now an ex-girlfriend) from Germany a few times. That’s about it. On the other hand, having friends all around the world might be a huge asset. Once you start to make money, you can visit them! Before you start making money, you might start a business with your friends around the world. Nowadays, the sky’s the limit, and keep that in mind.

Whenever I argue that English classes are too focused on doing the exercises versus teaching everybody how to actually communicate with people, I give the same example every time: me going to a mobile carrier on my first week in the U.S. Long story short, my English was good when I had to understand written English. However, when I approached a regular person at the shop, I was left astonished by how much I needed to learn. I did not understand much from what an average American was saying, and I was always among the best in my English classes in Poland. I’m not showing off. It’s just a fact. Did I refrain from communicating in English after that? No. If anything, it motivated me to improve myself.

Let’s talk about classes in the U.S.

Let me clear up the biggest misconception: American school is not easier. If you think so, and you’re gonna go to America – please sign up for an AP class. Any. Unless you’re a genius in a given field, you’re gonna have a bad time. Or maybe you’re I-pek and you have to be perfect and be the best. Your call.

If anything, school in the US is more personalized. It’s sort of like comparing iOS and Android (yes, I’m a nerd). iOS tells you what your home screen should look like, it tells you that sending files via Bluetooth is passe, and it thinks like Henry Ford. With Android, however, you’re free to change your home screen. You have wayyyy more customization options. iOS is Poland, and Android is the US. You didn’t get my nerdy analogy? Let me try again: cars. Poland is like a manufacturer that produces only one model of a car equipped with only one type of engine. USA is like a normal manufacturer. “So do you want your car in blue? No? Okay, how about red? Still no? Worry not! We have got like 12 different colors for you to choose from.”

The American school, or at least SPP, focuses more on understanding different concepts, knowing how to apply them in real life, and not on remembering stuff by heart. I feel like this approach is a lot more modern. Twenty years ago nobody would have thought, that we would have computers in our pockets. American school goes – hey, it’s time to change. Polish school goes – computers?

SPP has got some great teachers as well. Ms. Larson, Mr. Wiggin (if you’re reading this, then I hope that somebody continues my “Friday” thing), Ms. Stormont, Mr. Shai. I also have to say that I very much respect the work of Ms. Redding.

With that being said – this is the end of part one. In part two, I will answer the question “Can a falcon play jazz?”, and much more. Stay tuned and follow SPP’s blog. If you have any questions, hmu on Twitter!

Aleksander Jess (@AJWRSW)

Five Benefits of Studying Abroad in High School

NOTE: This post comes from the Nacel Open Door Blog.

While the actual list of benefits is much longer, we think these are some of the most important aspects of being a high school-aged international student.

Improve language skills outside the classroom.

While learning proper grammar, tenses, and vocabulary from a teacher are an essential piece of learning any language, nothing compares to engaging in conversation with native speakers. From meals with Host Families to friendly strangers, every interaction has the potential to be a learning experience. And oh yeah: learning a second language makes your brain bigger.

Boost for your college application.

With so many students vying for limited space at the world’s best universities, it can be hard to stand out. Studying abroad is one way to get a head start. Many world leaders today studied abroad at some point in their education. Plus, stories of your experiences in a new place, culture, etc., can turn any application essay into your ticket to university.

Taste of independence.

While we do our best to offer students a wide variety of support at NOD, you’re going to have to be independent as well. From the first plane ride alone to your country of study to managing a budget (with the added fun of foreign currency exchange rates), you’ll have plenty of chances to see how you handle navigating life “on your own”, which is also great prep for college.

Networking for your career

It’s never too early to think about your future, and you never know when that random conversation with a stranger could turn into a potential internship or job offer down the road.  A semester or two abroad can also help you land career-related jobs and higher salaries sooner after you graduate.

Cultural understanding

We use the phrase often here at NOD, and for good reason: we believe that in order to be proper global citizens and the leaders of tomorrow, a knowledge of cultures other than your own is supremely beneficial. As our planet grows ever connected, the importance of respecting and appreciating differences in cultures – and finding common ground– becomes even more important. A year (or more) spent learning a different language, talking to different people, eating different foods, and seeing how life operates in a different place can not only give students an insight into another culture, it’ll give you a new perspective on your own culture.

Think we missed something major? Let us know if you’d like to make your own list to share with the NOD family (aka the world)!