Understanding Through First-Hand Experience

August 15, 2012

Mt. Blue High School cross country relay race. Sonja running to the finish line. Mt. Blue High School cross country relay race. Sonja running to the finish line. A-SMYLE student Sonja Mitic hails from Serbia and is experiencing the small American state of Maine. Before Sonja arrived to the United States, she had an open mind and came prepared for anything.

"This year was going to be nice," says Sonja. "I realized I was here for the year and just thought about the positive. I tried to do something fun every week."

Sonja has gone skiing, made a snowman with friends, and selected what is now her favorite class, a literature class in which students read American novels about travel. Her favorite book is On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Sonja has also joined the International, Civil Rights, and Yetti clubs in her U.S. high school, and developed friendships with American and exchange students from all over the world. Together they share their cultures and discuss tolerance and other cultural issues.

"I learned…people all over the world are the same," explains Sonja. "And there may be small differences in the way we dress and what we eat, but we are all basically the same in our needs for protection, love, comfort, and freedom."

In the spring, Sonja attended a Better Understanding for a Better World conference focused on cultural and religious diversity. Sonja wrote in her essay for the conference, "It is up to the younger generations…to avoid the influence of stereotypes, to break the cycle, and show to the world that we can all function well together and get only positive results…it is only through learning about each other and accepting our understanding that we will be able to erase those negative sides, and work together towards our goal of the perfect world we all want to live in."

Sonja feels lucky to have the opportunity to develop her own opinions about a different country and culture the best way possible – by experiencing it first-hand. She wants to encourage other students to take a chance and do the same. Her advice: "don't come with a lot of expectations, take one day at a time, be open to new experiences, and enjoy all you can."

In summarizing her exchange experience, Sonja said, "It has been the best experience of my life!"