BHS exchange students: ‘A different environment’

Aiko Iguchi Aiko Iguchi, a junior at Berkeley High School, found that moving to Berkeley for her junior year of high school has given her a fresh start.


Aiko Iguchi

Aiko Iguchi is a junior who came to BHS from Brussels, Belgium.

Jahan Ingraham

Aiko Iguchi, a junior at Berkeley High School, found that moving to Berkeley for her junior year of high school has given her a fresh start. Coming from Brussels, Belgium, she noticed differences between BHS and her school at home. 

“I find it really crazy that you have open note quizzes,” Iguchi said. “(BHS has) an open campus so everybody can just walk in and out which I find really crazy … (Also at BHS,) there’s less subjects. We have 13 subjects a week,” said Iguchi. 

Iguchi’s private school in Belgium is similar in size to BHS, but she has found that the people at BHS are very different. “People here are so much more open and nice … I used to go to a private school, which is also a different environment,” said Iguchi. 

Although the transition to BHS was difficult, Iguchi appreciates her counselor and her peers for making her feel welcome. “My counselor was super, super nice. And my friends, and just people in general were super kind and open,” said Iguchi. “Now it pretty much feels like  I’ve been living here for a long while.” 

Iguchi also appreciates the freedom to choose classes at BHS. “I love how  there’s so many diverse subjects. There’s so many different subjects you can choose from,” said Iguchi. 

Iguchi looks forward to a year of  new experiences. “I’m just getting to know the different traditions and events that there are in America and the high school experience,” Iguchi said. “For school, I’m trying to take it a little bit calmer … (I look forward to) having fun and having a stress free year.” 

Emilia Leonardi

Emilia Leonardi is a senior who came to BHS from Rome, Italy.

Jahan Ingraham

Emilia Leonardi came from Rome, Italy to BHS for her senior year because she was curious about experiencing a different school system. 

The first thing Leonardi noticed about BHS was the size. “ I was really confused, and I feel like the school is too big because there’s too many buildings and it’s too difficult to understand,” said Leonardi. At her school in Italy, there is just one building and students stay in the same classroom all day. 

Leonardi also noticed differences in how the schools are structured. “(In Italy), you just choose a school … It could be more (of) a scientific school or a more humanistic school … you don’t choose your subjects, and you do the same two subjects every year for five years, and we have five years of high school, not four,” said Leonardi.

The school spirit at BHS is also different from that in Rome. “I think Americans are crazy,” said Leonardi upon observing Red and Gold Day. “It wouldn’t happen in Italy.”

Although being an exchange student comes with its challenges, like making friends and adjusting to a new school, Leonardi has found that going through such a major change has helped her grow as a person. “(It) really helped me to focus on myself, actually … you’re alone, and in a different country. You have to step out of your comfort zone,” said Leonardi. 

Leonardi hopes that by the end of her year at BHS, she will look back on a great year. “ (I hope) at the end to say I don’t want to go back home because it was a good experience,” Leonardi said.

Belén Estefanía Oyanadel Alfaro

Belén Estefanía Oyanadel Alfaro is a junior who came to BHS from Concepción, Cuba.

Jahan Ingraham

For Belén Estefanía Oyanadel Alfaro, a junior from Concepción, Chile, the transition to BHS was easier than she expected. 

“The transition to Berkeley High was not as difficult as I thought at first, because in my country I was studying almost every day to speak well, as well as they can understand me … Also, I have had good friends and good partners that are always supporting me,” said Oyanadel Alfaro. 

However, it was difficult for Oyanadel Alfaro to leave behind her friends, family, and her old life when she came to BHS. 

“It was sad (to leave) at first of course, because you already have your relationships there, your daily routine. So, that all will be new,” said Oyanadel Alfaro.

Oyanadel Alfaro came to BHS as an exchange student to broaden her perspective and learn about different cultures. “I think there’s a lot of opportunities and you can open your vision of the world (by) staying in another country. (I wanted to) go to study in another country with other people that have different customs … There’s a lot of diversity in Berkeley so that’s what I liked the most,” said Oyanadel Alfaro. 

On her first day at BHS, Oyanadel Alfaro noticed the diversity of the school and how accepting the teachers were. “(The school has) nice teachers that respect all your pronouns and your reasons (for) being,” said Oyanadel Alfaro. 

During her time at BHS, Oyanadel Alfaro hopes to improve her English and make new connections. 

“I’m really (looking forward to) speak English well … (I hope to) have good grades, hang out with nice people and get support with my teachers,” said Oyanadel Alfaro.