After COVID-19 Hiatus, Foreign Exchange Students Come to PVHS


Askari (left) and Holub (right) pose in front of their new school (Photo courtesy of Heidi Hiatt)

Lucia Ruiz, Features Editor

Often, students take for granted how lucky they are to study in such a great educational system in the United States. Students come here from all over the world to spend a year in exchange programs for the American educational experience. 

One Palestinian student who decided to spend a year studying as an exchange student on campus this year is sophomore Saji Askari.

“I’m trying to blend in and make friends here,” Askari said. “I want to see everything and I think it’s a once in a lifetime experience. I am trying to go to games, parties and try everything.”

However, moving across the world from Palestine to the U.S. has not been all fun and games for Askari. To ensure the safety of everyone involved, Askari had to embark on a long process to become an exchange student. 

“We had to do a lot of paperwork,” Askari said. “It was very difficult. [I had to be interviewed] and take a test. The interview and test were not that hard, but you had to sign [paperwork] and a lot of things to make sure that when you come here you are going to be safe.”

As Askari said, there was loads of preparation that went into his admittance into the exchange program.

“First, there’s a small test with simple English and if you pass that then you get to do another test,” Askari said. “And then you have to wait. I waited for like a month to get the results. And then there’s an interview with [State Department] officers so that they know that you can speak English. That was the most important [interview] because if you did not pass that one, you cannot continue.”

Askari was inspired to become an exchange student because of his brother.

“My brother went to an exchange year like eight years ago so he encouraged me to go to try it,” Askari said. 

“My brother was placed in Virginia. He really liked it. Also just watching [American] movies and shows, I wanted to try it and be here.”

Junior Yurii Holub, an exchange student from Ukraine, also noted that his exchange program, Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX), was different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“People who were in 10th grade last year did not come, so it’s kind of sad,” Holub said. “They had online school but it’s [not the same]. They had American online school but it’s different.”

Similarly to Askari, Holub went through a rigorous process to become an exchange student.

“This year, it was an online application,” Holub said. 

“Last year, you went to school and in all countries there is a [testing site] and on the first day you take a test. On the second day, if you did [well] on the first test, you go to write an essay in 45 minutes. It’s kind of difficult. If you did well, you do the same essay in the winter. This year it was kind of different, you just have an application and you have one month to write [another] three essays but then in the winter you write a [timed] essay for 45 minutes. It was easier this year because you’re in your home, chilling and writing an essay. It didn’t feel like a test.”

Now that Askari is here though, he found that it was all worth it.

“It’s beautiful here,” Askari said. “What I like here is that I can be responsible for myself.”

While Askari is enjoying his time in America, he also misses things from back home.

“It’s hard [adjusting],” Askari said. “I have a twin sister too. I am going to leave her for a year so that’s going to be hard.”

In Palestine, school is very different from American schools. 

“High school in my country is simple I think,” Askari said. “It’s like the same thing from first grade to 12th grade. And we have a test at the end and you test for every subject. That grade will say if you go to college. [It determines] if you go to a medical college or engineering or whatever. Here there is Google Classroom, all of these things.”

Askari and Holub feel very lucky to be able to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and PVHS is even luckier to meet them.