Is American High School Really Like The Movies?

One of the first things that comes to mind when you think about an exchange year in US must surely be the famous American high school. We have all seen the American High School Musical and imagined ourselves in that cheerful atmosphere where we’re surrounded by lots of friends, multiple parties and wonderful schools with colorful lockers in the hallways. But how must of what we see on television is real? Let’s find out!

School size.

First thing’s first. Not every single high school is a big building with thousands of students. The school size really varies across the whole country and depends on the local community. For example, you can study in with a hundred students in high school or a couple thousand. There is no specific answer for which sized cohort is better; it really depends on what kind of person you are. The experiences you have will be quite different, depending on how big your school is.

When you’re in a small high school, you’ll be known as an international student by pretty much everyone out there. You will also not encounter many major problems when it comes to joining the sport teams at the school. However, with a small school, your options regarding school classes and even some activities like sports and after school clubs are often limited.

On the other hand, a big high school will give you a totally different atmosphere. Think big and noisy hallways, all kind of classes and after school activities, and a lot of students everywhere. I’m studying in a high school with two-thousand students and for me, as a student who studied his whole life in small schools, it was a shock to go to a large American school. It took a while to accommodate and find the classes that I really needed and were interesting for me.

Accommodation period.

No matter what school you are placed in, you will not make friends on the first day or week. This will probably make you feel sad and discouraged, but don’t worry! Everyone goes through this period and it’s okay! It takes some time for your future American friends and teachers to get to know you; to love your personality and the lovely accent that accompanies you!

Don’t be afraid to try new things and choose some classes you’ve never had before. Join a drama class, look for a key club or a volunteer club and get into a sport team in your high school. There, you’ll get some of your greatest memories and friends in high school. Don’t overload yourself with hard classes and thoughts about your next year back home – this will not help you! Enjoy your year in an American high school as much as you can!

Classes and high school sports.

As you all know, the American educational system is quite different from many countries, which is great! Before you start your school year abroad, you’ll need to choose the classes you want to have for this respective school year. There are a few classes like Math, American History and English you must take because of polices enforced by the school or your exchange program, but it will definitely not affect your plans of having something new you’d like to try.

Often times, you can also choose the level of classes you want! Pretty cool, hey? The length of the class periods differs as well. You can have four of classes at one-and-a-half hours long each day per a semester, which is what I had, or you can get around six classes at 40-50 minutes in length. Either way, you’ll get used to it, and maybe even learn to love it!

Once you choose all your classes, you’re ready to go! But the fun part is still waiting for you – school sports.

Being part of a sports team is not mandatory, but you definitely should try it! Don’t be afraid to make this step, even if you had never been involved in any sport activities back home, you’ll love it in America! The team will become your family and you’ll make some great friends there. For instance, I had never wrestled before I came to the US, but I choose to be in a wrestling team when I studied abroad. It was one of the best decisions I made during my exchange year!

Dress code at school and phone usage.

You’ve probably heard that you can go to school dressed in your pyjamas if you really wanted to. Well, that’s right! American high school even have special days when the school encourages students to dress in something special and funny, like pyjamas! They do have dress rules, but it depends on the school you are in. There are very few times when you’ll need to be dressed in something fancy, and that will be at the homecoming and to the Prom party.

Before I came to the US, I was really confused regarding the high school policies towards mobile devices. I’d heard many things about the school rules surrounding phones. But it wasn’t until I got to the US that I understood how it really worked.

Technically, you’re not allowed to use or even have phones during your classes or in the cafeterias. However, the reality for many American high schools is that everyone uses their phones at almost any time. But remember to put it away during tests! Otherwise, you don’t have to worry about it. And yes – usually there is free WIFI in many high schools.

Grades, school lunch and transportation.

In American high schools, there is often no fancy opening ceremony to start the school year. Instead, from the first day of school, teachers will introduce you to the new material pretty quickly and you’ll see the first grades roll in! The grading system in America is quite different to the rest of the world, but in a good way!

All your work will be graded on the scale of 0 to 100 on a 10-point grading scale. Usually, everyone will recognize your grades by the letters A (90-100), B (80-90), C (70-60), D, E and F. You will not be even close to these last letters, I’m sure!

Teachers are always more than happy to help you if you need extra help, no matter how many times you ask. Once you get used to English, everything will appear so easy, and generally the exchange students have the highest average grade point average (GPA) in the school. Just saying!

There are a lot of rumors about THE AMERICAN LUNCH TIME! But this is just a break when you can eat your food at school, and you can seat wherever you want! Don’t be afraid to go and talk with someone you don’t know. Introduce yourself; that’s a nice way to start making new friends! Just don’t be too shy.

And now is the time for the legendary yellow buses! Usually, a majority of high school students use these buses to go and from the school. There is nothing special inside of the buses. After a while, you’ll even get sick of looking at them. But, for a while, they do look really American and cool!

There is a lot to talk about for your future experience in an American high school. You’ve got the basics of school life now, but to fully experience the beauty of your exchange year, you need to try some things by yourself first! Remember this – don’t be afraid to try new things and meet new people! Good luck!

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Edy from Moldova is currently finishing up his year-long exchange at North Carolina as a FLEX Program exchange student. Follow his adventures on Instagram at @edwardxd!

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