10-Day Gateway
PAX foreign exchange students from Asia enjoying the Atlantic Ocean waves during an arrival orientation in New York
Talk about an all-American Sunday in the summer for these three!

A report from the first extended PAX arrival orientation

Being an exchange student is not without its difficulties—homesickness, language challenges, and culture shock are among the most common and formidable. To better prepare students who may be concerned about their language skills or who may be facing more daunting cultural adjustments, PAX introduced the new 10-day, extended arrival orientation this year designed to make certain so-electing students get their experience off on the right foot.

Currently overlapping with two, three-day orientation groups on the Long Island campus of Adelphi University, the pilot group from China, Japan, Somaliland, South Korea, and Thailand is having a lot of fun…and learning a ton!

Living in an English-speaking country is very different from taking English lessons with your compatriots, and this group learned it right away. Indeed, any time most of the participating students have had an English-related question or gotten stuck mid-sentence, they’ve simply turned to the student next to them and quickly clarified in their native tongue. That’s not an option in Ohio, Utah, Alabama, or wherever in the U.S. they end up, and it’s not an option here either.

Serious about improving their English, these teens are making some serious progress during the nearly 40 hours of classroom time and 30 hours of enrichment activities, ranging from presentations to field trips to culture sharing workshops with their peers.

This week, the pilot program’s participants were lucky enough to receive a visit from PAX board member Walter Stewart, flanked by three PAX scholarship alumni. The insights of program alumni are invaluable to these anxious teens. After all, hearing it “straight from the horse’s mouth” is very different than the formal workshops of teachers and staff. More than anything, the students felt reassured by the Alumni’s reminiscences. “If they could do it; I can do it,” declared one young woman from Japan.

Some things simply cannot be taught in a pre-departure orientation (one that takes place in your home country). How can you practice the amount of eye contact passersby on the street will make with you? What an appropriate amount of personal space for the people around you is?

These and a hundred more things you never could have considered or rehearsed confront you upon arrival in a new country. Encountering them together with equally nervous and curious teens about to embark on the same adventure is comforting to say the least. “With each little trip we take off campus, I feel more and more comfortable,” observed one Chinese student.

The students also make a lot of great friends while preparing meals and playing games. While most meals are provided by the staff, one especially memorable meal was an international family dinner comprised of dishes from each representative country. While there were more than a few calls back to South Korea or Thailand, most students were able to assemble their list of ingredients with the help of Google. Translating them into English is good for their vocabulary; cooking is good for their souls!

In addition to the full-day tour of and night visit to NYC, the extended orientation provides two more area outings. The most memorable for this lot was hitting Jones Beach this past Sunday! After cramming their strained minds with English phrases, the barrier island New York state park was a great place to yell, splash, and play.

Equally spectacular in the eyes of these young folks from far-flung foreign lands were trips to Applebee’s, Five Guys (burgers and fries), and shopping malls. If that’s not a gateway to their life in America, we’re not sure what is!

—The PAX Press Editorial Team