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Belgium and Beyond

Foreign exchange student Virginie Pfleger shares her experiences in America and her memories from home.
Hannah Stine

Could you imagine traveling millions of miles to a strange new land, all for the sake of developing proficiency in a different language? One exchange student, all the way from Belgium, is just one of many exchange students at Tuscarora for the year 2023-2024. Most exchange students’ unique experiences, both in America and from their home countries, often go unnoticed in the crazy world of high school. It would be a misfortune for these students to travel back home without their stories being heard. We interviewed Virginie Pfleger from Belgium in order to capture her story on page.

Imagine entering a scene: dark green forests sway in the sun, stretching as far as the eye can see. You don’t think you will ever leave this forest, but when you do, the first civilization that you see is a town that, true to its European nature, has roundabouts with unique centerpieces around every corner. Pfleger grew up in the southern part of this beautiful European country, in a town called Ferrieres. The closest city is Liège, a focal point of Belgian culture. While not the capital, Liège is the third most populated city in Belgium and has waffles that are to die for. (Really, if you ever have the chance to go, try the waffles.) 

Belgium is also known for its fries, which Pfleger exclaims, “are actually from Belgium!” Despite the word “French” in the name, it is debated that the origin of French fries isn’t France. Currently, Belgium is petitioning Unesco for heritage status of the fry, which would give them a culture claim over the food, according to BBC.In Belgium, they even sell fries as a main course, with whole restaurants devoted to the delectable potato. Pfleger’s “favorite food ever” are “french” fries. She asks, “Do I really have to explain why I love fries? It’s just so good!”

Speaking of food, Pfleger’s lunch break for school in Belgium is 50 minutes long. Her school starts at 8:30 and she gets a 10 minute break every two hours. School, along with social media like TikTok, helped her learn English. In Belgium, the region is linguistically diverse, with French, German, and Dutch being the primary dialects. Pfleger is fluent in French, tried to learn Dutch with little success, and decided to practice her English by coming to America. She says, “I’ve always wanted to experience the American way of life and High School mostly because of the movies. At first I didn’t know that I could actually do it,” but her teachers and three friends who are exchange students as well, “…helped me and inspired me to enter the exchange program.”

When Pfleger first got to America, she had mixed emotions. “It’s hard to really describe how I felt… I was scared of the unknown and impatient to discover the American way of life and my American high school at the same time. I was so sad to leave all of my friends and my family behind and glad to meet my host family. I felt alone at the airport but I knew that everybody was supporting me. You have to experience it to really understand!” 

The experience of going to school in America is drastically different than in Belgium. For one thing, Tuscarora doesn’t start until 9:30, so Pfleger “can sleep longer and it’s amazing.” The size of the school has been an adjustment for her, since her school in Belgium had a mere 600 students overall while Tuscarora has more than double that. This drastic difference in numbers allows for more extracurriculars, specifically sports. Pfleger explains that unlike Tuscarora, Belgium doesn’t have “tennis, soccer, basketball, football, or cheerleading teams. We do have a sports class, but we do multiple sports. For example, I learned to play badminton, basketball, volleyball, etc., but we don’t have teams or matches every Friday.” Pfleger has been able to enjoy tennis during her time in America, whereas she wouldn’t have back at home.

Another thing Pfleger has been able to enjoy is the weird American phrases she’s been exposed to. For her, the strangest one has been “it’s raining cats and dogs,” a puzzling expression that most Americans can’t even logically explain. Even here at The Pack, we searched up the phrase for clarification. On the other hand (another peculiar English phrase), Pfelger’s favorite word is “consequences” due to its pronunciation.

To follow that train of thought, consequences can be both good and bad. Subsequently, being an exchange student comes with its pros and cons. For those curious about the life of an exchange student or thinking about embarking on that kind of journey, Pfleger has some hard-earned advice: “An exchange year is an amazing experience but you really have to be mentally ready for it.” She starts off with the “biggest advice”, cautioning that people shouldn’t rely on their experience being what it appears as on social media. She adds, “They usually show what goes well and never what goes wrong.”

Conversely, being a foreign exchange student has many perks. Pfleger recounts, “The good thing is, you’ll be fluent in the language that you want to learn, you can say to everybody that you’re going to do an exchange year, you are going to learn a lot about yourself and you’ll see and understand what’s really important for you.” There really is nothing like traveling to a country with an entirely different culture than your home. For one thing, it exposes you to experiences that never leave you, while also allowing you to see that the world is much bigger than yourself.

When all is said and done, the foreign exchange experience opens one’s eyes to the things they left behind while also educating them on lifestyles different from their own. Pfleger says light-heartedly, “I’m sorry guys but our parties are better. You have to experience a real party in Belgium to understand!” While she’s excited to return to the land of “real parties”, there are a few things that she will lament parting with. “I’ll miss Chick-fil-A so much!” she exclaims. As she nears the end of her stay in America, she voices, “…I don’t want to leave the people that I met here but I can’t wait to see everybody again.”

Pfleger’s personal takeaway from her exposure to life overseas is that it revealed “how important my family and my friends are to me.” While her horizons have broadened and she can now voyage back home with a piece of America in her heart, she has already made plans for when she gets back to Belgium. “After my exchange year, I’m going on vacation in Spain with my friends and I’m doing a small  ‘Europe tour’ with my family,” she explains. In September, she will be going to université (college) to pursue a path of knowledge that studies phenomena in the cosmos: astrophysics.

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About the Contributors
Hannah Stine, Staff Writer
Hannah is a sophomore at Tuscarora HIgh School, and this is her first year on the newspaper team as a Staff Writer. She has played volleyball for NVVA since 5th grade. In her free time she's either reading, drawing, writing, or tackling an overload of homework.
Sydney Nicklas, Staff Writer
Sydney is a sophomore at Tuscarora, and this is her first year as a staff writer for The Pack. Sydney is in choir and theater at THS and plays classical guitar. She also loves reading and her two dogs.

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