From Deutschland to NA

Foreign exchange student Ana-Maria Sanda is nearly two months into her year at NASH, and she’s savoring every new experience.


photo by Jess Daninhirsch

Senior Ana-Maria Sanda is a foreign exchange student from Germany.

Sally Cho, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Senior Ana-Maria Sanda has embarked on a brave and exciting journey at a young age that not many will take until their adult years. As a high school senior, she left her home country of Germany for the United States to attend NASH for a year as a foreign exchange student. 

“I have never been here before,” Sanda said in a recent interview with The Uproar. “Coming here was something I always wanted to do, since the culture is so different.”

Applying for a foreign exchange program is a lengthy and complicated process, and Sanda’s experience was no exception.

“I had to find an association to come here and send them information and pictures of me,” she said. “Then, I just had to wait for a family to decide if they wanted to have an exchange student and get in touch with my association”

However, her story was a little different from the average.

“I got really lucky because my host family at first wasn’t even interested in having an exchange student, but a woman who works with my association called their church and told them a little about me,” Sanda said. “They thought it was interesting because they were told I am Romanian and so are they. So, they thought they should see if they should host me. They did, and I am very happy and thankful.”

Even after only a month of being at NASH, Sanda feels that her experience has been positive.

“It has been really great. Everyone is very open and friendly,” she said. “The teachers are understanding about me being an exchange student.”

However, many challenges come with moving to a foreign country and attending a school there, including the language barrier.

“Obviously, I don’t have the same vocabulary as people from here, but it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. Math has been a little bit of a struggle, but I am managing pretty well, especially since my host mom has been helping me,” Sanda said. “Sometimes I don’t understand a word and have to look it up, which can be annoying but nothing I cannot survive. Additionally, in Germany, everyone has to learn English, so I have been learning it since second grade.”

For German exchange students like Ana-Maria Sanda, the U.S. is far and away the top choice. (

For Sanda, the biggest challenge is missing her family and friends back home.

“I call my family pretty much every morning and afternoon. I text my friends a lot, but I also call them from time to time,” she said. “However, it’s quite hard to keep in touch with them, because I have my own life here and they have their own life there. Additionally, the six-hour time difference is quite big. We manage, though.”

There are also challenges to moving to a new school in general.

“Finding new friends can be a bit of a challenge, especially since everyone already has an established friend group senior year,” she said. “However, as I said, everyone is pretty open and some people come up to me and start talking. After a while, it also became easier.”

The change in the structure of classes has also been an adjustment for Sanda.

“In Germany, we cannot choose our own classes. We have to do the classes the school tells us to do,” she said. “Also, everyone in one grade has classes with only those in the same grade. For example, 10th graders only have classes with other 10th graders. Additionally, we have fixed classes, which means almost every class is with the same people, except for gym and the third language you have to learn, which is either Latin or French at my school. The third language options vary from school to school.”

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The daunting size of NA has also been a transition for Sanda.

“The size is definitely the biggest difference between NA and my old school,” she said. “It was the first thing that stood out to me.”

Sanda also has faced culture shock coming to suburban Pennsylvania from Germany.

“Having to drive everywhere was quite a change for me. Obviously, we also have and use cars in Germany, but we have a big variety of public transport that can get you pretty much anywhere you want,” she said. “It’s easy to just walk to the grocery store, which you cannot do here, especially if you don’t live very close, because there are no sidewalks.”

Nevertheless, Sanda looks forward to her year at NA.

“I am really excited to go to homecoming and prom. I also love going to the football games,” she said. “Additionally, my host family and I plan on traveling to different states, which I am very excited about.”

With the bulk of the year still ahead of her, Sanda nevertheless believes her foreign exchange experience will be treasured for the rest of her life.

“I think in the almost two months I have been here, I experienced a lot of different things I couldn’t experience if I didn’t decide to do the program,” she said. “I am here for the whole school year, and I am sure it will be one of the best years I will have.”