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High School Life In Small American Country Towns

Very often, high school exchange students select programs that do not allow them to choose their destination, just like I did. Reasons for this may be varying: for instance, I truly believed that my placement wouldn’t affect my experience abroad, as I valued other factors more important than that (for example a good host family) and all of them would be left to chance.

On the other hand, if you made the same decision as me and you’re waiting for your placement to be defined for you, it’s your right to know that you’re quite likely to end up in the countryside. That happened to me as well, a girl from a big city like Milan, Italy, with millions of inhabitants, who ended up in a small town of 3,000 in Wisconsin, United States. But guess what? I survived and I absolutely loved it. Here are some pros and cons of doing your high school exchange in a small American town.

Pros:

Small American Country Towns Road
Being the in a small American town means you can be quite a drive from shopping centers!
  • It’s waaay easier to make friends and get to know everyone around you.

Of course, the smaller the town, the easier it is to  come across the same people over and over again, which, at some point, will force you to talk to them. Small high schools give you the opportunity to make friends very quickly and get to know literally everyone’s names (and their parents’, teachers’ and even pets’), while big schools sometimes tend to be diverse and make it hard to see the same faces more than twice a day. Trust me, if you’re an exchange student, you are going to appreciate being able to stick with the same people both at school and after school.

  • Exchange students are big news.

As you can imagine, in a small town where nothing happens besides cows birthing other cows, the arrival of an exchange student will be some big news for a while. This, of course, means that the news will precede you and many of your teachers and classmates will know your name before you will even walk into school. Oh, and you’re probably make the local newspaper, too.

  • Lots of school clubs, lots of sports.

A small town and a small number of students don’t mean that your high school structure will be small at all. On the contrary: school departments in small towns tend to offer as many activities as possible for boys and girls, including clubs and sports of any sorts. For example, my school featured three gyms, a fitness center, an agriculture room, physics and chemistry labs, an auditorium and of course track, football, baseball and softball fields. Plus, in the countryside you’ll learn very quickly the meaning of FFA and you’ll get the chance to experience things you won’t ever see again, such as bonfire nights, garage parties or bring-your-tractor-to-school-days (and I can’t think of anything more fun to watch than that).

  • The whole town attends the school’s sporting events.

A small high school means that on a Friday night, everyone will be gathered to watch the students’ football game, whether it’s at home or away. And the same thing for basketball, baseball or (insert-any-other-sport-here). In small districts, the school spirit tends to be much greater than in the big ones, and very often schools of the same area are even at conflict with one another.

  • The neighborhood is one unified entity.

Whenever something bad happens to a family, neighbors are there to help them. Because boys and girls are in the same class of people since kindergarten, everyone knows everyone’s families and usually tends to be super nice with them.

Cons:

Small American Country Towns Tractor
You might get caught behind a tractor on your way to school!
  • You can’t go out in pajamas hoping that you won’t meet anyone you know.

For the same reasons I listed before, you can’t expect to go around town without being recognized. But I mean, if you don’t care anyways, then it’s all good.

  • Rumors spread quicker than cows.

When I say that everyone will know everything about you, especially if you’re an exchange student, I mean that they will know every single move you made Saturday by the following day. While your friends back in your country won’t even know the name of the town you’re living in, people from there will know everything about them, instead. Unfortunately, there’s little privacy in small towns.

  • The whole town attends the school’s sporting events.

Yes, this might also be a disadvantage. Sometimes, there is a lot of pressure to play well if the entire school is watching you; but do not worry, your teammates and friends will always be there to encourage you, no matter what.

  • All stores and restaurants are far away.

This is probably the biggest difficulty of living in the countryside, besides having tractors driving in front of you on your way to school. Luckily, you’ll meet friends willing to take you anywhere you want, just so you can experience everything.

P.S. I hope you like country music. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Small American Country Towns cow
There are cows everywhere in the countryside!

Profile photo of Carolina Guerra

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Carolina Guerra

Carolina is an Italian student about to graduate from high school in Milan, her hometown. She was an exchange student in the US and loves to travel all around the world, sharing most of her journeys on Instagram. You can always catch her singing, dancing, writing or eating. She also has a passion for cinema and dogs.


4 comments

  1. Great post. I think any big city person going to the countryside for high school would be a challenge. The fact that you are also not from the host country compunds the complexity. Much respect to you Carolina.

  2. I absolutely love this! I am an American from a VERY small town, so I can attest to a lot of what you’re saying! Everyone always when crazy over international students at my school, and they were usually the most popular kids haha This is such an awesome article 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! So glad that you can relate to my experience! Living in a small town was certainly a challenge for me, but I loved every single minute of it. And yes, I think it would have been way more difficult to make friends in a bigger school, considering I didn’t even speak English fluently in the beginning. Thank you, I really appreciated your comment 🙂

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