My Year in Memphis

An exchange student from Germany contrasts a large public school with FACS.

by Lavina Dehn

Life starts at the end of your comfort zone – unknown.       


I remember exactly how excited I was when I found out about the opportunity to spend a whole academic school year in a foreign country. I had never been very confident in myself or life in general, so the challenge of visiting a new country on my own seemed frightening but appealing at the same time. I wanted to become more open and aware of my strengths. 

Without much consideration, I set my mind on the United States; I have loved the English language since I have been in third grade, so choosing an English-speaking country seemed logical to me. I had already visited the United Kingdom several times with my family, which is why I was afraid of being reminded of them too often and becoming more homesick. The United States simply fascinated me, and I always had certain expectations of it, such as students being involved in school sports and extracurricular activities, driving to school in the yellow bus that is so different from the European buses, and special school days like homecoming. 

When I told my parents about it, I quickly learned that living this dream would not be as easy as I had hoped; they were afraid of letting their youngest daughter go on a journey to such a huge country more than 4,634 miles away, all by herself. Furthermore, the program is very expensive, which was a thorn in my father’s side. However, they did make it possible for me, and I’ll always be grateful for having such supportive parents. I found an agency that I really liked, signed up, and after several months of endless paperwork, my dream came closer: a host family chose me.

It was August second at the airport when I said goodbye to my family and friends for the next 10 months. After 16 hours of waiting, being on the plane and crying, I finally arrived. My first host family lived near a large public high school, which is why they signed me up for said school. But the first day there was the complete opposite of what I had expected: it was literally one of the worst days of my life. I had to learn very quickly that this year would not be what I had hoped for it to be, and that American movies often reflect a very different image. My agency told me beforehand that the high school I would be attending had a few hundred students, but when I arrived I realized that my high school had more than 2600 students in four grades; the classes were crowded and the teachers had to concentrate on more than 30 people per class. I was shocked by how many people were placed in one single classroom. From my school back in Germany I was used to 800 people in seven grades, but this was just the complete opposite. Throughout the whole day, I was all by myself and got lost several times; nobody paid attention to me. This was one of the most shocking and disappointing experiences of my life.

I know now that the day’s outcome was partly my fault because my expectations were too high; still, this was nothing I would have ever imagined. I pulled myself together and started each day with a positive attitude and tried to make the best of it. Sadly, each day was exactly like the day before and my situation did not improve.

During the second week, I changed my classes, hoping that I would finally get a better experience, but this did not happen. Several weeks passed and nothing changed. I tried to make friends but it was very hard since nobody really made an effort to include me. 

Also, after school I spent most of the time alone at my host family's house because I did not participate in any after-school activities. I asked my guidance counselor about the possibilities they offered, but she just told me to listen to the announcements in the morning or look it up on the internet, because she was very busy with a lot of other students who needed her help. After some time, I signed up for a few clubs but still did not have anything to do after class, because those clubs met once a month during school time. I tried to participate in a sport, but I had to find out soon that every sport had an enrollment and uniform cost. Track, which I liked doing the most, cost 400$. I decided not to pay that much money even though I really wanted to be a part of the track team.

Meanwhile, I started to go to the youth group at First Assembly Memphis on Wednesday nights. I really enjoyed it there and started to make friends very easily within a few weeks. Time started passing and I found more and more friends, mostly at FACS but some as well at my high school. I began to accept my situation.

The week before Thanksgiving I moved in with a new family whose children were good friends of mine, both attending FACS, and everything happened very quickly. My life started to become so much better from that point on. I continued going to the public high school, but found myself wanting to go to FACS  instead; I had way more friends here than at my actual school. My new host parents enrolled me at FACS during the week before Christmas break.

Since then, my exchange year became one of the best years of my life. The classes were smaller and quieter, and the teachers were able to concentrate more on every individual student. Within a short amount of time, I adjusted to the new school and managed to make more friends very quickly. It was very different from the way it was at my prior Memphis-area school. There, everybody was stricter and more distant. Here at FACS I was welcomed with open arms and people included me in their friend groups. I enjoyed my time here a lot. Apart from lunch, there was also break, which allowed me to talk to my friends between classes, making the days more fun. The classes were more organized and NetClassroom was updated more frequently. Additionally, I finally got the opportunity to participate in a sport–track. It was one of the best seasons of my life; together with my team I laughed, had fun, and enjoyed the extra time after school.

FACS organized several pep rallies and dress-up weeks which offered a nice diversion from a normal school week. All in all, FACS was a better fit for me; this is something that will be different for everybody. All I know is that I am extremely grateful to have gotten the opportunity to experience both schools because they were so different. I do not want to forget any of the memories I made here and I am looking forward to visiting FACS in the future.