Becoming the newest member of an already close-knit classroom was nerve-wracking at first for Amanda Crawely, but now she is reaping the benefits. The enthusiasm of her Slovakian classmates has taught her the importance of being a member of a community.

Honorable Mention

Amanda Crawley
Cabrillo Community College

America strives for individuality. Accomplished and renowned figures in America’s society are quoted on their success being attributed to hard-work and personal strength. Achieving “The American Dream” is indeed something to aspire to, but has America’s society slowly begun to overlook the benefits of community? I arrived in Slovakia in August of 2007 and only had one month before school started in September. Little did I know how much my life would change during my next few months in a Slovak high school. The tight knit student community within each class has led me to realize that the biggest difference in my new school compared to that of the one I attended in America, is the atmosphere of community. In Slovakia there is a sense of great respect for both teachers and students that helps to motivate the school as a whole and encourages students to achieve; plus, there are noticeable benefits of keeping the same students together in home room classes for all four years of high school.
It was my first day of school, and I was the girl standing by herself at the back of the class. After being publicly announced in front of the Slovak high school that I was the new American exchange student, I was feeling more than a little queasy. The students in my home room flooded around me, lunging for seats nearest to their best friends. Suddenly, everyone stood up and stopped chatting as the door opened and a small, rather elderly, teacher entered the room. This was, as I soon learned, only one of the many requirements that students used as a sign of respect towards their teachers. The students at Šrobarka High School have turned out to be much more respectful, accepting and tolerant compared to my old classmates of Davis Senior High School. As a result, I have been able to learn the language without fear of being ridiculed for my ridiculous accent and have received countless hours of patient help from my classmates. Without the support and immediate acceptance as a fellow classmate, I’m not sure I would have been able to receive as great of an education as I have at Šrobarka. The other obvious difference that comes with this respect is a level of safety that American schools have lost. I know that students are too respectful here to bring weapons or harm the students and teachers. This just adds to my feelings of security and is unquestionably a result of the community feeling.
Certain levels of respect have a great impact upon the amount of enthusiasm and motivation a school has. As opposed to my American school, the feeling of community encourages all students to achieve to the best of their abilities. When I first began attending Šrobarka, it was not uncommon for students to give me a brilliant smile and exclaim, “Oh, vel’mi dobre, Amanda!” even after what I had just said was horribly simplistic and grammatically incorrect. Even though I was butchering their language and way behind them in my school work, my classmates never failed to keep me enthusiastic. Now that I can understand most of what teachers are saying in lectures and during classes, I am learning about subjects that I never would have had the opportunity to learn about in the U.S.A. My knowledge of European history has greatly expanded and I feel that the education I am receiving in Slovakia has allowed me to explore completely different realms of knowledge not offered by the American education system. All this, thanks to a little encouragement given by students who believe that community is just as important as the information that they go to school to learn. This enthusiasm overflows into the students’ home and class work, thus causing the entire school to achieve a higher standard of learning and increasing the students’ chances of acquiring higher paying jobs later in life.
Enthusiasm and motivation may be one of the many benefits of keeping students together in the same classes during their high school years. Although it was very intimidating at first, the fact that almost all the students in my class have known each other for at least four years is actually a great way for people to really bond and create a friendly and motivational atmosphere. I’ve noticed that my classmates have a feeling of close community and that they feel obliged, as a part of that community, to help out their fellow students with anything from class projects to personal problems. “I think I’ve found my life friends,” one classmate told me one day when I asked her how she felt about our class. Apart from the life-long friendships, I understand what it feels like to be part of a bigger picture and why my class goes out of their way to ensure that everyone is keeping up with their school work. This ensures a better education for everyone, not
just individuals struggling to beat the other students, as was the case in my previous high school. Even though I’ve only been studying at Šrobarka for six months, I feel accepted into my class’s community and want to help them just as much as they want to help me. They may have helped me learn a whole new language, but I feel proud that I have been accepted and can teach them a little about American culture and help improve their English skills.
The respect, enthusiasm and acceptance into a class that has stuck together through four years of grueling education, has opened up a whole new world and culture to me as well as benefiting my education, and life, in ways I never thought possible. The opportunity to study my last year of high school in Slovakia is an experience that has changed my life indefinitely. I know that I am still an individual, but the differences in my school now have taught me how important it really is to be part of a community as well.
Amanda found new opportunities after she was able to integrate into her Slovakian classroom. When you study in another country, you too should do your best to become a member of the new community where you now live.