Looking At Wilson Through Foreign Eyes



At track practice I noticed a new girl: tall, blonde, and smiling. My friend nudged me and whispered that she was from Switzerland. I walked over to her and she introduced herself as Clara Edmonds.

She was here for only a couple weeks, but some things still jumped out at her. The sheer size of Wilson, with its large number of students and facilities impressed her. We have our own track, a 50-meter swimming pool, and multiple gyms. At her K-12 school there are kindergarteners running around the cafeteria. I pondered how different high school would feel if little kids were running around everywhere.

Wilson junior Mira Stamer noticed similar things. She is from the German countryside near Frankfurt but is living here in DC for the year. On her first day of school, jetlagged and fearful, she was surprised at how big the school was. Back in Germany there were 800 kids in her school. Other German exchange students this year within her program, ASSE, were placed in American schools with student bodies as small as 180 kids. It was certainly an adjustment. “I was lost and didn’t know where to go, and my first class was in the B-wing so it was even more complicated to find,” she recalls.

Once she got more comfortable navigating the building and hearing English incessantly, she came to like all the options Wilson offers. She takes photography and sociology as her electives, and runs track, which she probably wouldn’t be doing at home. “The only thing that we can choose ourselves is our second language– either we can take French or Spanish or Latin– but that is the only thing that we can choose,” Stamer explains. Photography is her favorite class, especially at the beginning of the year, because she did not have to speak.

In Germany, sports are not part of the school. Students practice after school with club teams in other parts of the city with kids from a variety of schools. If a school does have its own soccer team, it is very informal, with games held maybe twice a year. “We only use our school gym for PE,” Stamer says.

The American concept of school sports has been crucial to Stamer’s friendships. Most of her friends are on the track team because she runs with them at practice every day and kills time with them during long track meets. “Otherwise you just go into your classes, but you have only two hours with the people so it is really hard to find friends,” she says.

In Germany, Stamer spent the entire school day with the same group of students. The teachers moved from class to class, but the students stayed in their seats. “I would see them from seven in the morning until one or two in the afternoon everyday.  All my friends were in my class,” she recalls. The large population and alternating schedule make Wilson feel impersonal and isolating for a one-year exchange. “You talk to them but they are not really your friends,” she says of Wilson students, “I would say it is much harder to make friends here.”