Life in the U.S. / Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight – Marie from Belgium – 4/4/17


(Marie from Belgium stuyding in Wisconsin ) 

We have so many truly amazing and talented young students at Aspect Foundation, but certain students really stand out from the pack. Today, we are putting the spotlight on a standout student who has been making the most of her exchange year, Marie from Belgium! Marie is studying in Wisconsin with the Peterson family, and has been filling her year with homecoming festivities, becoming the student of the month at her school, and family trips! We asked Marie several questions about her exchange year so far; see what she had to say below!

Tell us about your first few days in America.
I remember my first day like yesterday. It was 6pm when I arrived and even if I was really tired, I was so excited and I was looking everywhere. The first night in the house was a little bit awkward, that’s when I really realized I was going to spend the next 10 months of my life in Wisconsin. I got a little bit nervous but really happy as well.

Did your host family meet you at the airport?
Yes, my host family and my coordinator were waiting for me with a big smile and holding a huge sign saying “Welcome to America”, with the Belgian and the American flag. 

How did you feel when you first saw your host family?
When I arrived I was really nervous and I didn’t even want to walk out of the plane. But at the second I saw them, I felt better. They gave me a big hug, smiled, took pictures and started talking with me.  

How did they welcome you?
They asked me a lot of questions, they showed me the entire house and kept saying, “Don’t ask for anything, it’s your house as well now.”  The second night I was there, the cat puked on my bed. We all laughed and they told me that it was the welcome package from the cat. So yes, everybody welcomed me well!

Looking back, what is one memory that stands out from the beginning of the year?
Probably the first “party” in my house with the entire family. My host parents have 8 kids and 15 grandkids so I met a lot of people in one time but at the end of the day I was convinced I was with a great host family. They were all so great and open with me.

(Marie’s Arrival in the US)

How has your school year been going?
My school is the best school I could ever have asked for. It’s a small school. At first, it was really hard for me because I felt alone, I didn’t know anybody and my English was not good. But I met Hannah, my best friend now, who helped me meet everybody. It’s thanks to her I have so many friends today. I love my school, my clubs, and my teachers. I was really afraid about not making friends because for me, that’s a really important part of this exchange year. I love the fact that people involve themselves so much at school in their club or their sport.

Are you making any new friends?
Yes, I’m still making new friends now. The key is to always talk to new people, and not staying 24/7 with the same people. But I have the chance to be with really nice people in my grade.

Did you get to go to Homecoming last fall?
Yes, I went to both Homecomings with my friends. The first one was formal but not the other one, which was beach-themed.

What was the week leading up to the Homecoming dance like?
It was a fun week. Each day we had to dress up differently, and there were a lot of activities going on. We could feel that everybody in the school was happier for one week. 

Do Belgian students have Homecoming dances too?
No, we don’t have any dance expect prom, which is at the end of the senior year. I was really confused at first when everybody was talking about homecoming week, but I loved it.

What is one memory from this school year that you will always remember?
I spend a lot of time with my friends so it’s hard to talk about a single memory with them. So, probably when I was student of the month. I felt like I achieved something. Another great memory is the three times I went to the elementary school to talk about Belgium. The kids were so cute. They asked me funny questions like “do you have cars in Belgium?”

(Marie and her classmates during spirit week and Homecoming)

Did you take any trips with your host family this year?
Yes, a lot of different trips. We went to Chicago, Florida, the Twin Cities (Minnesota and Saint Paul), Milwaukee and, we are going to Madison and to the Dell in May. 

What was Disney World like?
Huge. So different from the one in France. Really impressive but I preferred Universal Orlando Resort because I was able to see the Harry Potter area. 

Were you able to go to any of the beaches while you were in Florida?
Yes, we went to Madeira Beach.

(Marie and her host family visiting Disney World and Florida)

How did you like Chicago?
I loved Chicago. The river, the tall buildings, the bean…Everything is so impressive. But I did prefer Minneapolis. 

What did you do while you were in the city?
The first time I went was with my host family and a friend. We did a lot of sight-seeing; we saw the bean, we went to the Willis Tower and to the mall. The second time was with my FBLA club, we did some business tours and went to the Shedd aquarium.

How does a large American city like Chicago compare to Belgian cities like Brussels, or Antwerp?
Chicago is impressive, the buildings are so tall. I would say that America’s large cities have really modern and tall buildings, where Belgian cities have old…really old buildings. 

What was your favorite part of  your trip to Chicago?
The favorite part of my trip to Chicago was Willis Tower. It was beautiful and so amazing. 

(Marie and her best friend Hannah in Chicago)

Now that you are over halfway through your exchange year, we want to know if you have any advice for students or host families!
The key is communication. If something is bothering the student or the host family, they should always talk about it to fix the situation as fast as possible. 10 months goes really fast, so don’t spend it worrying. 

What advice would you give to another student who is thinking about studying abroad in America?
This year is not going to be easy every day. It’s starting a new life in another language, and students should know that and be ready for it. This year is also going to be so amazing that the idea of going home will make you cry. Another piece of advice for a student who is going to study abroad is not spending too much time talking to people for their home country. It’s really important to integrate yourself in your host country.

What advice would you give to a mother or father who is thinking about hosting a foreign exchange student?
I only have one question for them: Are your ready to learn, share, and have one person more at your dinner table for 10 months? If the answer is yes, you are ready. The only requirement for hosting is being understanding. 

What advice would you give to an exchange student when trying new things?
Do it! Don’t stay home when you can experience something new.  This year is unique and will never happen again. Even if you think it’s stupid, try it. My friend invited me one night to a puzzle party… I was not really excited about it, but it became one of the best nights of my year. 

(Marie with her host family and best friend Hannah in Wisconsin)

We want to give you a chance to share any experiences or thoughts you have with our community!
Some days can be harder than others, but I feel so good after these 10 months. This experience changed my life and my future. I feel so ready to start my life, I feel more confident, and I know so many people around the world. There are no words to explain how great this year has been. 

If you could sum your exchange year up in one word, what would that be?
I would say ‘enriching.’

Lastly, is there anything else you would like to say today?
I would like to say thank you to my host family for trying their hardest to let me have the best year I could have ever asked for. I would like to say thanks for making me feel like a member of the family. This year really exceeded all my expectations and that’s, for the most part, thanks to them. I will never thank them enough. I love both of you.

Do you know a standout student that you would like to see featured? Send your suggestions to