326 Miles Away From Home


Emerson Lane, Sports Editor

3326 miles away from her hometown of Belém, Portugal, Francisca Reis, a foreign exchange student, heads off for another day at WHS.Reis is at WHS on a 10 month exchange program during her senior year. Kate Knight, her current host family and a fellow classmate of Francisca, helped show her the senior experience and advice for the workload of senior year.

Francisca was not surprised by the claims of the “heavy workload” in the United States, specifically at Waterford High School. Compared to her previous school in Portugal, the workload is a lot lighter. This worried her preparedness for college. Compared to the 4 classes we take a day changing every other day, school in Portugal is much different. The school of Secundaria de Miraflores has three classes that are typically offered each day. These classes last about two hours, and are allowed a 15 minute break between them. The adjustment to the lighter workload was shocking and almost concerning to Francesca. She says, “I feel like when I go back (to Portugal), I won’t be prepared for college.” Francesca will be attending the University of Lisbon and majoring in business and science. She was very shocked with the amount of electives offered, while back in Portugal, it was a more stricter schedule that stays the same for all students. There is only a small selection of courses offered in Portugal. These include English, Physical Education, Chemistry, Math, Philosophy (which is mandatory for everyone), and Portuguese. These studies focus on important skills and topics that prepare students for heavy work loads in their future jobs. However, she saw some benefits from the new topics introduced to her. She thinks back to her friends that are still learning in the environment she used to be in, and thinks it may be harder to adjust when she’s back in her hometown.

Coming to Waterford High School and adapting socially was easy, but a shock to Francesca. In her hometown she was used to small friend groups, where everyone is very close and honest with one another. Francesca expressed the differences: “I feel like people are not as honest as they are in my home country.” Each class here has 20 new students learning. Initially, Francesca found herself shaking on the first days of classes “because everything is different, and there are different people in every single class, especially on the first day I got lost when going to lunch.” There wasn’t much guidance to adjust to the large number of students and new surroundings each period. Compared to her hometown, the school itself had all grades from 7-12. Grades 7-9 are considered middle school and 10-12 are considered high school, but all learn in the same building.

Schools in Portugal allow more time for studies and less time for activities and LTS hours, unlike here in the US. Francesca’s schedule typically looked like going to school from 12-6 and immediately once she got home beginning her studies from 7 to 1 am. Time is equally allowed for social interactions after school but typically friends will hangout after studying till 4AM. The difference she observed here is that many students’ curfews end at 11pm. When Francesca first arrived in the US she experienced a big cultural shock. “With Kate’s family she helped me adjust a lot to the hours being different since people wake up early for school and I was used to waking up later for school and staying out later.” Being with a senior classmate allowed her to have a looser curfew and, as closely as possible, similar expectations from when she lived in Portugal. 

Another adaptation Francesca noticed was the food portions compared to meals in Portugal, making our lunches basically snacks. Francesca explained, “In Portugal for lunch you eat a full meal including appetizer, entree, and dessert. While here people eat more snacks and unhealthy food like mozzarella sticks, or only four chicken nuggets.” When talking to her other friends, who are also a part of the foreign exchange program, she noticed they gained 20-30 pounds. This was not from the amount of food they were eating, but the type of food. This was really shocking to Francesca. Coming to America to see that the type of food that is offered is less healthy was a huge change. 

Missing quality time with family wasn’t the number one concern for Francesca. While she missed her family during her year in the US, she knew when she went back to Portugal, everything would go back to normal. When going to college, almost all students still live with their families. Her friends all live close by, so coming back to her previous life will be easy. In contrast, the US has colleges where many people go very far away for school, and are away from family and friends for months. Francesca says this experience is basically a “fever dream, where you leave for 10 months and go back and everything is the same.”

Fransesca said this has been an amazing opportunity to learn new customs and widen the horizon of opportunities. While it may not be perfect and require lots of adjustments, Francesca has made friends and memories she will never forget after her time in the US. While circumstances lead to Francesca leaving Waterford before the end of the school year, and she regrets she won’t be able to graduate or go to prom with her friends, Francesca would 100% suggest exchange programs to her friends at home, and wants to encourage all students in Waterford to be hosts.