Bridging the Culture Gap: Perspective of an Exchange Student by Dani Fulkerson
Despite diminishing globalization among high school students, Ema Skolnickova is embracing cultural understanding and exploration. The 18-year-old Slovakian is an exchange student at Snider.
Skolnickova attributes her passion for “knowing the world” and “becoming more responsible” through cultural exploration and the English lessons her mother gave her from a young age.
In addition to the obvious language barrier, Skolnickova insists that “everything is different” at Snider.
“In Slovakia, classes are much smaller. Students have the same classmates and classroom for every subject for eight straight years of schooling,” she said.
Slovakian afterschool activities and sports are offered, but they do not take place at the school. Instead, they closely resemble American club sports because teams are not composed entirely of students who attend the same schools.
The junior noted the gap between the treatment of cultural education in Slovakia and in the United States. Skolnickova believes that American students could benefit from learning global culture studies.
“Students learn about America in Slovakia,” she said, “but not all students I’ve met in America know anything about Slovakia.”
Skolnickova has noticed more than just educational differences between the two countries. She noted major distinctions between the ways the countries treat fast food and fresh produce.
“In Slovakia, going out to eat is reserved for special occasions. We only eat out around four times a year,” Skolnickova said, “and all of our food is locally grown and produced.”
When she reflected on traditional Slovakian meals, Ema’s face lit up.
“Phrohy, a dish similar to a large ravioli, is a flat pasta dumpling stuffed with mashed potatoes and onions and covered in a rich cream sauce,” she said. “It is perfect.”
Looking slightly nostalgic for her favorite meal, Skolnickova gave insight into how much she misses her home country.
“I do miss my parents a lot,” she said, “but I am trying not to think about it. While I’m here, I am trying to focus on this life, not on home and everyone there.”
Because Slovakia and America contrast in most aspects, Skolnickova said she still has not yet adapted to her new community.
“I thought the countries would be less different. I feel as if I have started a new life from the beginning,” she said.
Skolnickova mentioned that the smaller differences and more unexpected cultural gaps are the aspects she has been most curious about.
“In Slovakia, the housing is generally vertical to save space,” she said. “Yards are smaller and there are more public natural spaces.”
Because these cultural differences are so striking, Skolnickova has envisioned herself partaking in various local activities.
“I have wanted to travel to different states, visit local festivals and get to know the culture here,” she said.
Although she wants to explore all that America has to offer, Skolnickova feels as if she has already made memories to last a lifetime in the few months she has spent in Fort Wayne.
“My favorite experience in America so far has been meeting with all of the Indiana foreign exchange students,” she said. “It was perfect. They understand what it feels like to be in a new environment.”
For the rest of the school year, Skolnickova can be found practicing with the cross country team, exploring downtown Fort Wayne, talking with her fellow foreign exchange students and expanding her cultural knowledge.