The world comes to PA through international students

Katherine Haden, Staff Writer

“I always wanted to come to the US, because it’s such a beautiful country. I love [the] United States,” said junior Anna Kuliberda, whose family relocated from Poland due to her father’s job at NATO. International students like Kuliberda compose a significant portion of PA’s student body; with origins all over the world, they make PA a true “IB world school” and offer unique perspectives on how the US compares to the rest of the world.

According to Kuliberda, because of Poland’s difficult history, “Polish people are very independent, hardworking, and do everything they could to have [a] better situation” after the hardships faced during both World War I and II. There is a strong “social spirit” and desire to support one another, evident in the popularity of soccer, ski jumping, and family holidays. Visiting Americans should know that “when you come, we are not super open at first, but when you know us, just like step by step…you will have…good friends.” 

Kuliberda enjoys American food and football, as well as how everything is bigger and more spaced out compared to Poland. This openness is reflected in the culture as well: “Everybody is so nice here [in the US] people ask you, ‘Are you okay,’ like ‘How are you,’” said Kuliberda. “It’s not hard to make friends.”

Junior Laura Jimenez, who moved from Spain and plans on attending college in Europe after graduating from PA, agrees, although she feels that she did have to “make an effort” to initiate conversations: “Most people I talked to were really nice, and welcoming, and they asked a lot of questions about where I’m from and stuff like that, so it was really good.” However, the process of moving continents was complicated–obtaining housing and healthcare was “a bit of a mess.”

For Jimenez, one of the biggest cultural differences between the US and Spain is “how late we eat, which was horrible here for me…we would have lunch at like 3 p.m., [but] here it’s like 11:50. It’s like breakfast!” In Spain, lunch can even be as late as 5 p.m., and dinner as late as 11 p.m. Tipping is very uncommon–if a customer gives a tip at all, it’s usually just one euro.

Junior Peculiar Asiegbu, originally from Nigeria, agrees that food is a huge cultural difference: fufu, egusi, jollof rice, and fried rice are staples of Nigerian cuisine. The many cultures within Nigeria are reflected in diverse musical genres and traditional dances.

Adjusting to American food has been a challenge for freshman Dari Rivera, who came to the US for economic opportunities and “a better life”; in her home country of Honduras, people “don’t make enough money to live.” She plans to stay for four to five years before returning.

According to Rivera, authentic Honduran cuisine is hard to find: “If we go to a restaurant that says that they sell food that is from our country, we taste it [and] it doesn’t taste the same.”

Rivera has experienced bullying because Spanish is her native language. “Sometimes they say ‘why are we here if we have a country, what are we doing here,’ they say bad words to us, they say that we’re just stupid Hispanic people,” explained Rivera. “I don’t listen to them, I just take it like a joke.”

PA’s international students make up a vital part of the school community, bringing diversity in cultures, languages, and experiences. “Sometimes we try to make friends with other people, and they think we are bad people just because we speak Spanish, but we are not. Just don’t judge us without knowing us,” said Rivera.

The day senior Dona Panayotova enrolled at PA after moving from Bulgaria, schools in Virginia were shut down due to COVID: “It was bad timing, but it’s okay–once we [got] back, I was at first anxious; I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do here?’.and then I started coming to the International Students Club. I found a lot of friends, so now everything’s good.” She encourages students to join the ISC: “it’s really fun and you can find friends.”

“I definitely think that every culture is beautiful, every culture is fascinating, and every culture deserves appreciation–doesn’t matter where you are from, everybody should respect you, appreciate you, and everybody deserves love,” Kuliberda agrees.