A Study in Contrasts for Van Baarle

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For exchange student Chiara Van Baarle, 17, her home away from home on Long Island has been a study in small contrasts to her native New Zealand, from the seasons to schooling.

Hailing from the suburb of Takapuna in the Auckland Region, the 12th-grader came to East Islip High School this past February, staying with a local host family. The school year in New Zealand, where the seasons are the reverse of the U.S., starts at the end of January and is split into four terms with a two-week break between each term, and an eight-week summer holiday starting in early December. Van Baarle’s excellent grades in her junior year qualified her for university in senior year, which she chose to spend abroad.

“I signed up for the program so that I could have a year traveling,” she said. “School in East Islip is very fun for me as I take mostly elective classes, because none of the grades count for me at home.”

Van Baarle will be returning home to New Zealand in January, but will take with her many exciting memories and a true sense of different cultures.

“Life in New Zealand is pretty similar to life here, but greener, and we’re less patriotic unless we’re going to a rugby game,” she said. “We definitely use more British slang than America. Another big cultural difference is that when people here suggest things for me to do, it usually involves a restaurant or diner. In New Zealand, people would probably suggest hiking trails or rugby games.”

Since arriving in America, she’s also been asked some questions that strike her as quite strange, including whether Kiwis – as New Zealanders are known – live on cliffs, keep penguins as pets and find mountain goats invading their homes.

Even the average school day was a source of cultural discovery. “The lockers and the cafeteria are so typically American,” she said. “It feels like ‘High School Musical.’ The chairs being attached to the desks also seem very movie-like, and I had thought that yellow school buses only existed in movies!”

A fan of Broadway shows, she particularly enjoyed visiting New York City. “Living here for 12 months meant that I got to see it in every season, when most tourists only see it in wintertime or summer,” she said.