Esmaralda van de Stouwe: Across the seas teaching you and me

Ellie Smith, Staff Writer

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Esmaralda van de Stouwe is a new name to Jacksonville High School. If you have not met her yet, she is an exchange student attending Jacksonville High School for this current school year. She is no different than you and me. She is a spunky 16 year old willing to live and learn, especially in the United States. The only difference is that she came from the Netherlands!

Jacksonville has a long history with exchange programs. There are many opportunities to learn about different cultures and for different cultures to learn about the one that U.S. citizens live in. Many of these programs include Rotary, JHS’s GAPP, and Illinois College’s Exchange program with Japanese students from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. However, Esmaralda van de Stouwe comes from another organization in Jacksonville, AYUSA ( also known as Travel Active in the Netherlands).

“I’m staying with Pam and Dennis Daniel; they have hosted over 20 students now,” quotes Stouwe. While it may be hard to be away from home, Stouwe reassures that “ Pam and Dennis are really sweet and very experienced with hosting students, so they know how things work and how to deal with the struggles of being an exchange student.”

It is also good to know that Stouwe is using this as a good learning experience. She has mentioned that she is learning lots about American life and “… how school works in the States.” She also light-heartedly said that she is learning about our All-American sport, football, even though “I still don’t completely understand it, but I like going to the games!”

Football isn’t the only strange thing she has encountered here so far. After asking her some of the strange things she has been through, they are actually quite humorous. She has been asked questions such as “Where are the Netherlands?” and “Do you have pizza in the Netherlands?” But Stouwe is very understanding of how one can be curious and just unknowledgable of the world around them as she quotes, “They are not stupid questions; they are just strange for me.”

This quote is so crucial for people of all cultures and backgrounds to understand. Most United States citizens are unaware of the privilege they possess. Stouwe explains that “… the people in America are not really taught about the rest of the world because it isn’t necessary. Everything you need, you can find or manufacture in your own country. On the contrary, in the Netherlands we depend a great deal on other nations. This is visible in the way we learn things at school; we’re always focused on the rest of the world.”

Accounting for our privilege is hard. However, United States citizens like the ones at JHS, should be very aware of it and the effects it can have. Esmaralda points out one of the most crucial things about going abroad is learning about yourself. She states,  “Being here I realized I set too high of expectations sometimes, not only for myself, but also for others. I also learned that you have to take the first step and start talking to people if you want to become friends with them. Making friends is hard work, but it is worth it.”

So while putting yourself aside to know others better, you just may find that you find yourself too. Getting involved with the many programs Jacksonville has to offer, perhaps United States citizens can become more cultured in the world they live in. Esmaralda van de Stouwe is already on her way to help our community become the place we strive for it to be.

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