Foreign exchange student recounts her experience at Wilson


Photo courtesy of Janice Gondal

Janice Gondal

The first day I entered Wilson, I told myself as I walked into the atrium, “Janice, take a deep breath. This is not going to be easy, but it will be an interesting experience.”  

Now, looking back on my year as an exchange student from Pakistan, this has definitely been a roller coaster ride. From becoming part of a family halfway across the world to making new friends, I started living a new life.

A year ago, I hadn’t even thought about going to Wilson, but now I can’t imagine this year without it. When people ask me, “What do you think about Wilson?” I smile and reply, “It’s a crazy place, but I like it.”

I came from a school of 300 students to a school of over 1,800 students at the opposite end of the world. In such a large school environment, it was a bit difficult to find my place.

Because I was only going to be at Wilson for a year, I wanted to make the most of my experience. From playing soccer and cymbals, to writing articles for The Beacon, streaming sports games for Wilson Live, performing Shakespeare, joining outdoor track, and even taking AP classes, I’ve tried almost everything a person can in one year at Wilson.

Even as a person who had never even seen a Shakespeare play, I got to participate in Wilson’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Theater has always been one of my favorite activities, but Wilson theater not only gave me a new experience, it also gave me memories that I will cherish forever. It was a way for me to meet amazing people and make friends. The backstage hustle and the choir room dances quickly became the highlight of my year.

One of my funniest experiences of the year was joining the track team. I was quite nervous to take on this challenge; I had never run this much in my life. Track was the hardest yet most rewarding experience for me. I was never good at it, but I improved, and that was what motivated me. The track team is one of the most supportive groups of people I’ve ever met; they will cheer you on and tell you to push through no matter how miserable you are. I had moments when I would be the last one running and everyone else would cheer me on. For me, being the worst was helpful because I had no other option but to improve. This team was one of the reasons I fell in love with running.

In my single year at Wilson, I’ve met teachers who have completely supported me from the first day, teachers who took a while to actually understand my situation, and teachers who only last week realized that I’m an exchange student and not graduating from Wilson.

The education system is so different in the U.S. that when I came, I actually needed to process how the school worked. My class in Pakistan had 19 students, so everybody knew each other. There are around 400 juniors at Wilson, so getting used to not knowing everybody was quite different and be a little intimidating too.

In Pakistan, students stay in one class, with teachers moving between rooms. It is also very rare in Pakistan to have mixed-age classes or a school without uniforms.

I took very different courses at Wilson than I would have in Pakistan because, why not get the full experience? We don’t study U.S. History or drama in Pakistan, so that was a totally new experience for me. Even though it wasn’t exactly my plan, I ended up in classes like AP U.S. History (APUSH) and AP English Language, which seemed a bit scary, since my knowledge of U.S. History spanned about the names of two to three presidents. Since then, I’ve had moments such as when my APUSH teacher had to explain events as simple as Thanksgiving to me because, of course, it’s my first time in America!

Wilson will always be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Even though I had moments when I hated being here, they were moments that taught me something. Being an exchange student at Wilson was not easy. It can be stressful, but it’s fun too. It will be hard to say goodbye for good.