The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

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April 13, 2024
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Henrique Abecasis and Philipp Knecht: Exchange students transition to WHS

Credit: Courtesy of Philipp Knecht and Henrique Abecasis
About three weeks before the start of the school year, senior Henrique Abecasis and junior Philipp Knecht moved to Wayland from Portugal and Germany, respectively, to begin their exchange year.

At the beginning of August, senior Henrique Abecasis and junior Philipp Knecht moved to Wayland from Portugal and Germany, respectively, to begin their exchange year in the United States. With all of their essential belongings packed in a few suitcases, Knecht and Abecasis embarked on their exchange year, moving into their host families houses. They have been transitioning into American culture and WHS’ fast-paced academics and rigorous extracurricular activities.

Abecasis is hosted by junior Lily Thompson’s family, while Knecht is hosted by freshman Aadith Charry’s family.  From the culture, lifestyle and clothing to the education system, Abecasis and Knecht agree that America differs from their home countries in many ways. However, their language barrier was their first obstacle to overcome.

Abecasis poses for a picture with his classmates at his old school in Portugal. (Credit: Henrique Abecasis)

“In the beginning, the language barrier was a little bit harder because when I was speaking English, I had to translate everything to Portuguese,” Abecasis said. “Also, I always had to pay attention [to the conversation], because if I didn’t, then I would [feel off in] the conversation. Since the school year has started, I think it has become much better.”

In addition to overcoming the language barrier, both students had to adjust to the American education system, and the level of classes available to them at WHS, like Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

“Although there is more homework, I wouldn’t say it’s harder and for me [the homework] is fun,” Knecht said. “I guess it depends on which classes you take, [like] AP classes. I don’t take AP classes, so I can’t tell if classes are harder here. For now, math is around the same, some subjects are easier and some are harder.”

Abecasis noted that in Portugal, the education system is different in that all students have to take the National Portuguese Exam (NPE). This is in contrast to America, where a student’s high school career is reflected by their GPA.

“In Portugal, we don’t have levels because everyone is taking the same national exams, which [are] hard,” Abecasis said. “There are classes here that are harder and there are [classes] a lot that are easier. My English class [at Wayland] is kind of easy.”

Outside of school, Abecasis and Knecht have embraced the jam-packed extracurricular schedules of WHS students. Abecasis plays for the boys varsity soccer team and plans on playing tennis in the spring, while Knecht gave the Wayland-Weston crew team a shot.

“I started with crew but it was two and a half hours a day for six days a week,” Knecht said. “I wanted to try all kinds of different activities and clubs after school.”

Furthermore, the grandeur of American lifestyles was a stark difference to their home countries.

“One thing that I noticed here is that everything is really big,” Abecasis said. “The cars are big and the houses are big. The suburbs in Portugal have really small houses that are close to each other. Here everyone has a backyard, a front yard and three bedrooms.”

The courtyard of Abecasis’ school in Portugal. (Credit: Henrique Abecasis)

Knecht is at WHS on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship, and decided to apply after a teacher recommended him to the program in tenth grade. Abecasis decided to join the exchange program because his entire family has done it before him, and it has become a tradition.

The exchange program that Abecasis is a part of, AFS Intercultural Programs, provides opportunities for exchange years in places that include Europe, Costa Rica, the United States and many other places. However, the location was not Abecasis’ choice, as the host family ultimately chooses their exchange student after viewing the potential exchange students’ online profile. A few years ago, Abecasis’ older sister went to Tennessee for an exchange year.

“My family [has] always [done] this exchange program,” Abecasis said. “My father did it, my uncle did it and my aunt did it. Since I was a little kid, they would tell me stories about it and show me their yearbooks. Their host families have visited Portugal and [my family has come] to the United States to visit them. Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to have my own stories and go to the United States.”

While Knecht has enjoyed his time in America so far, he does not plan on staying for college. Instead, he wants to return to Germany to pursue a college education in film. On the other hand, Abecasis is open to staying in America for college, but keeps the increasing price of tuition in mind.

“I am going to apply to some colleges here, but I think I will only go if I have a scholarship,” Abecasis said. “In Portugal, [college is free], so I think I will probably go to college in Portugal because I also want to go to medical school.”

Overall, Abecasis and Knecht have enjoyed their time in Wayland hitherto. Living with their host families and attending WHS has helped them adjust to American culture and the English language.

“My experience has been awesome so far,” Abecasis said. “I have met a lot of different people and each and every one of them has welcomed me super well. I believe being part of a sport has been a big part of my experience. Since I [arrived] until now, every afternoon I played soccer and I really enjoyed it.”

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About the Contributors
Sasha Libenzon
Sasha Libenzon, Co-Multimedia Editor
Sasha Libenzon, Class of 2025, is a third year reporter and second year co-multimedia editor for WSPN. She runs and nordic skis for WHS. Outside of school, she enjoys traveling, downhill skiing and spending time with family and friends. Contact: [email protected]
Selena Liu
Selena Liu, News Editor
Selena Liu, Class of 2024, is a third year reporter and the news editor for WSPN. She is a two-time captain of the cross country team, as well as a captain of both the indoor track and the tennis teams at WHS. She is also her class's vice president. Outside of school, she enjoys traveling, spending time with her friends and writing for her column Breaking Down Breaking News. Contact: [email protected]
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