Foreign exchange student is enjoying life as American teen

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Indonesian foreign exchange student Salsabila “Dika” Putri has immersed herself in activities at MFL MarMac. One of her favorites is choir. At the pops concert, she performed a solo, in addition to a duet with fellow student Kale Miene. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Like many people visiting Iowa for the first time, MFL MarMac foreign exchange student Salsabila “Dika” Putri said she expected to see a lot of corn.

“When I did a search in Google for information about Iowa, all that came up was corn. I thought people must eat corn a lot,” she said, laughing.

“But when I came here, it was far from my expectation,” she added.

Living with hosts Nick and Amy Donlon outside Monona, Dika quickly learned that, while Iowans do enjoy their sweet corn, most of the state’s signature crop is used to feed animals or for ethanol production.

That’s just one of many cultural, economic and educational experiences she’s picked up since arriving from Indonesia eight months ago and embarking on a quest to “see how it feels to be an American teenager.”

At MFL MarMac, Dika has taken a variety of classes, ranging from chemistry, Algebra and American government to horticulture and textiles.

“I wanted to try classes I can’t try in my country and interact with different people,” she said.

She’s found it interesting traveling from class to class throughout the school day, as opposed to staying in a single classroom.

“At home, the teacher goes to the students’ class,” which included around 25 individuals, Dika explained.

She’s also enjoyed immersing herself in MFL MarMac activities. To date, Dika has played volleyball and basketball, performed with the regular choir and Legacy Show Choir, participated in speech and the high school musical and served on the homecoming court.

“This was my first time in choir, and now I’m singing solos,” she shared.

She’s made a lot of friends through sports—an area that’s offered a unique insight into the American way of life.

“In my country,” Dika said, “sports are not really a big deal for high school students. That atmosphere surprised me.”

She appreciated having crowds that were “supporting me and cheering for me.”

Outside school, Dika said she’s enjoyed trying new foods, such as pickles and venison.

“I learned about hunting,” she noted.

She’s also ridden horse and experienced Walmart for the first time.

“You can get everything there, and there are things I’ve never seen in my country. It’s so interesting,” Dika said.

The American way of shopping is even different.

“My family back home, we go twice a week and buy fresh groceries,” she explained. “Here, you buy a lot and stick it in the cupboard.”

While Dika has enjoyed learning more about the United States, she also welcomes questions about her home country of Indonesia. In November, during International Education Week, she gave a presentation to her fellow high school students, introducing them to her country and similarities and differences in their daily lives. She’s also spoken to the district’s fourth and fifth graders and had planned to share with the elementary students before school was closed.

Plus, she said, “my friends ask a lot of questions. They’re excited to know about it.”

Dika has also appreciated the respect for her Islamic faith. 

“Most people eat pork here, but I cannot eat pork,” she said. “But people have provided me with a different lunch, as well as a quiet place to pray. They support me.”

Hosting a foreign exchange student, she noted, is a great way to learn about another culture. She encourages others to give it a try.

“If you want to learn about another country, you don’t have to go there,” she remarked. “You can bring a foreign exchange student and bring that country to your home. You can bring the world to you.”

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