The first day of high school can be difficult even for students raised in America, let alone an exchange student from a foreign country.
Preparing those students was the purpose of the ASSE International Student Exchange Program's Language and Culture Camp Aug. 15-25 at New Song Community Church in Etna Township.
ASSE International sought volunteer families to host high school students from Japan for the 10-day period, during which they would be acclimated to American culture before entering an American high school for a full academic year.
Karen Oberlander's family hosted a student named Ryo.
Oberlander said Ryo was very quiet when she arrived, but through the program and her host family, she became very open and fascinated with her new surroundings.
Oberlander said Ryo is particularly interested in American food.
"She wants to try everything," she said. "Just think if the student was thrown directly into the high school."
Program director Adriane Wagner said foreign-exchange students, particularly Asian students because the language barrier is so great, arrive in the United States with preconceived notions they develop from watching American programming, only to find the actual culture is vastly different.
"We're trying to challenge the High School Musical mentality," Wagner said. "We're sort of a soft landing for American culture."
Wagner said the camp gives the students 10 days to adjust to speaking American English, slang terms and all, before entering school.
During the camp, Wagner said, the exchange students visited Watkins Memorial High School and the Longaberger Co., where they created baskets and visited the company's unusual basket-shaped headquarters east of Newark.
They visited with Reynoldsburg Mayor Brad McCloud and got a look at Reynoldsburg's police department.
On Aug. 22, the students visited Easton Town Center for a scavenger hunt.
"The kids love shopping," Wagner said. "It's a fun way to engage in our culture."
Wagner said American students take plenty of things for granted, such as knowing how use a combination lock on a school locker, which is new to many Asian students.
One of the greatest hurdles, however, is slang, she said.
No matter how Asian students try to prepare to speak English before they arrive, they can never know even a fraction of the local slang terms until they experience living in this country.
Wagner said the camp is helping the students understand local jargon.
"They have no concept of our idioms," said Donna Anderson, whose family is hosting a student named Mizuho.
She said such phrases as "hungry like a bear" are lost on Asian students.
"Without the language camp, they would be lost," Anderson said. "It really helps them acclimate to life in the U.S."
Wagner said most of the students participating in the camp will spend their academic year with another host family, although some will remain with their camp families. She said there are still exchange students available for qualifying families who would like to host them for this school year.
Oberlander and Anderson said hosting a foreign exchange student is as exciting for the host families as for the students.
"We get to experience their cultures through them," Anderson said.
Oberlander said her 10-year-old son is benefiting from meeting the exchange students her family hosts.
"He loves to travel," she said. "We get as much out of it as the kids do."