Belgian girl in an American world


In the United States, being a foreign exchange student has found new popularity. Over 1,000,000 international students come to the United States and one of them is new to GlenOak High School. 

Charlotte Naelaerts came to GlenOak half way through her American senior year, which is a unique experience for the majority of international students. This however did not stop her from being the American student she always yearned to be.

“I always dreamed of going to an American high school. It’s been my dream since I was a little child. I was very influenced by Nickelodeon and Disney Channel,” Naelaerts said.

Getting to the U.S. from Belgium was quite the journey, one adorned with many steps.

“I heard about becoming an exchange student my sophomore year, I think,” she said, “For some reason, I was unaware that was a thing.”

However, once the idea was in her head, she was set on getting to America.

“My plan used to be to just live in America. But now, I could live out my high school American experience,” she said

Coming from Belgium and already being graduated there, the change in pace was a nice break before the rigorous academic life in her home country.

“Belgium school is very, very, different from American school. It’s in my eyes, horrible. After graduating from Belgium school, I was not ready to go to college. I wanted to do something more fun,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m wasting a year. I’m more living through experience.”

Despite living out her childhood dream, her first moments in the United States were not the ideal situation she was hoping for. 

“My organization pulled me out, put me on a plane to Michigan and then I was in Michigan for a week before I came here,” she said.

Now that she is in Ohio, she is having a great time getting to know the new environment around her.

“I just really like it now here, and this school is way more fun than my previous school. So, it’s pretty all right here,” Naelaerts said. 

Coming into a brand new country can be a bit jarring, and preparing for the shift is a big step into the foreign  exchange life.

“Your organization prepares you. They’re like, ‘America is weird,’” she said. “You’re the weird one in the country, you’re the one that has to adapt.”

Communicating in a language that is not your own is another challenge that crosses the mind of many foreign exchange students. For Naelearts, this was a struggle concord with social media and day to day life.

“I think TikTok, Instagram and just hearing people talk. Slang like ‘W’ is something that I recently learned. After a few times, you figure it out,” she said.

Despite the long road to get here and all the hardships, Naelaerts has grown to love her new, temporary home.