Coming to America

Nicolette Lau, Junior, is a foreign exchange student from Johannesburg, South Africa and is ready to share her own culture, along with her experience in America.

Rick Stark, Reporter

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In a global community having knowledge of other cultures is a critical part of this increasingly connected world.  If one isn’t aware of other cultures, there is a good risk of appearing foolish in some way.  In order to avoid this, one must attempt to inform themselves about other cultures. A favorite movie of both South African and American teens depicts such a blunder.

“If you’re from Africa, why are you white?”  Karen, the stereotypical dumb-blonde, asks in the hit film Mean Girls.

Most people wouldn’t think that a movie about the pitfalls of popularity in an American high school would be America teens’ biggest exposure to South Africa, nor South African teens’ biggest exposure to America. But foreign exchange student and junior Nicolette Lau, who hails from South Africa, said this is in fact the case.

According to Nicolette, Mean Girls is the most popular teen film in South Africa.  However, Nicolette said that “everything isn’t what you see in the movies.”  High school in America isn’t filled with “burn books” and “Plastics,” but how much do American teens know about the South African side of this cultural exchange?

For one, Americans, like the Mean Girls character Karen, probably don’t know South Africa is considered the “Rainbow Nation” because of the various cultural groups that live in South Africa. Nicolette believes that it is one of “the most diverse countries in the world” and said that “Johannesburg is classified as a ‘world class city.”  South Africa actually has eleven official languages.

Nicolette’s favorite day in South Africa is Heritage Day.  On this day, all of the students go outside and every ethnic group presents a piece of their culture in some form.

Students with native heritage perform a traditional dance, for example.   Although South Africa tries hard to celebrate all cultures, many cities are still divided ethnically due to after effects of apartheid.

Nicolette also said one must “stay vigilant in certain areas,” but overall, South Africa is fairly safe. Similar to parts of America, people assume South Africa is more unsafe than the reality.  Another similarity to America is how informal students are with their teachers.

However, “students use ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am,” Nicolette explains.  The most startling difference between South African and American

schooling is how they break the school year into four quarters with breaks a couple weeks long in between, unlike our comparatively long summer break.  Unlike America, the grades are kept separate.

South African students enjoy expressing themselves, especially with music.  According to Nicolette, South African teenagers like to listen to American artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber.  South Africa has had its own effect on American pop culture as well. Performers like Charlize Theron and Trevor Noah are natives to the country.

We can learn from Nicolette that American and South African teens have more similarities than differences, and to not have the mindset of Karen from Mean Girls.

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Coming to America