Home Away From Home


Faith Lingaraj and Sara Ghaffari

The Oakdale Bears welcome various exchange students from all around the world this year to attend and explore new opportunities and new cultures here at Oakdale High School. Ms. Tara Ketteringham outlined the process of selecting which students meet the specific requirements to attend this school.


Ms. Ketteringham, one of the four guidance counselors at Oakdale High School, handles the enrolling of the foreign exchange student after they have made their application and after that application has been approved by the principal. The counselor then must meet with the host family to put together a schedule for the student. Since the student does not get credit for the courses they complete, they mostly pick electives they are interested in.


Ms. Ketteringham spoke about some very interesting things about the foreign exchange policy of Oakdale High School: “It’s similar to any new enrollment. We go through process of telling the exchange kids about block scheduling and the basics of school. We tell them how things are run, because they don’t have the same graduation requirements as the rest of the seniors. They don’t go through same process with students. It’s similar to regular enrollment, but the exchange students don’t get credits.”


Many wondered how the exchange students initially felt about Oakdale itself, the second highest-rated school in Frederick County– how the cultures and traditions people have not only here in this country, but in the school as well, contrast to theirs.


“Well it depends on the organization that does the exchange. Different companies do these kinds of things. Maybe there is a waiting list, and it is on their end. The student does not apply through FCPS. The family has to be approved to host. Though the family does not have to verify their living situation or the kids that they have prior to hosting,” Ms. Ketteringham comments.


Diversity can be a huge factor that draws students to a school that international students are looking to visit. It gives them the encouragement to join the student body– to make them feel like they belong, fit in, and are wholly accepted.


“The students indicate their interests. They don’t sign up for classes until they get here. They take an English, maybe the general academics, depending on what grade they are in or what age they are,” answered Ms. Ketteringham.


Being homesick is not a surprise when you are half the world away.


Ms. Ketteringham touched upon this by saying, “Those things are typical with any new student to OHS or to high school or to any new school. It’s a big school and depends on where they come from, it’s overwhelming. It depends on extra-curricular activities. Homesickness is common for students in being in a different country. If they do senior year in a different place, it’s similar, if you haven’t grown up in the same area your whole life. It’s different.”


Natalia Aragon, a Spanish exchange from Madrid, Spain currently attends Oakdale High School.


“It’s bigger than Oakdale. In Spain we stay in the same class all day. In the school there are some clubs, not in private schools. We also have a free period, which permits us to leave to go get lunch,” Aragon answers.


The school building, the student environment, and the lavish surroundings are definitely bonus factors for new students coming to the school. Aragon had some very positive remarks on her first impression.


“Its very nice,” Aragon comments about our school overall, adding that she was originally assigned to study in Minnesota until the exchange student agency switched her to Maryland. “My family, close family, chose for me. The organization– you ask them questions, and they put you with the family. You do different questions on the computer and they look at you, the type of person you are, and match you with the family they think you’re good with. It depends. The questionnaire is long, and when you finish, they look for the host family. Mine took 2 months. They matched me with a family in Minnesota, but they prefer me to go here now.”


One can only hope to experience such a rewarding cultural experience here at Oakdale High School.