Two foreign exchange students who spent the entire 2018-19 school year at Riverside-Brookfield High School came from opposite corners of the world but ended up living just one block away from each other in Brookfield.
Rino Hachimura came to RBHS from Toyama, a city of about 420,000 on the west coast of Japan, while Lena Stoyva came from the small village of Byrkjelo on the west coast of Norway.
They have just finished their year at RBHS and will be returning to their respective countries in a month.
The two 17 year olds had each had the full American high school experience, playing on sports teams and living lives of as “American” teenagers while trying to fit into a different culture.
Hachimura played on the RBHS girls varsity basketball team while Stoyva played on the RBHS girls lacrosse team.
Only 5-foot-1, Hachimura had played basketball for seven years in Japan and was on a championship team. But the transition to basketball here was a challenge. The players were taller and the game rougher.
But one thing was the same. Hachimura again played on a championship basketball team as the Bulldogs won the Metro Suburban Conference championship and finished with a record of 20-9.
“It was the best season,” Hachimura said. “It was just really fun.”
While Hachimura wasn’t a starter or regular rotation player, she was an integral part of the team. Her personal highlight came when she scored a game-high 13 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting in a 58-12 regional quarterfinal win in the team’s penultimate game of the season.
Stoyva, who played team handball in Norway, decided to play lacrosse here although she had never played it before.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” Stoyva said. “I wanted to do something completely different and out of my comfort zone.”
That’s the same thing Stoyva had in mind when she decided to become a foreign exchange student and leave her tiny village in Norway to come to the United States.
“I wanted to go out, experience something new, get new perspectives, do something crazy because it’s not common for people to go away where I live,” Stoyva said. “People just spend their whole lives in the same spot.”
Stoyva, who has studied English for 12 years and speaks it fluently without even a trace of an accent, liked being here, but it took her some time to get used to the sights and sounds of a large metropolitan area. She has enjoyed exploring Chicago but found it very different from what she was used to in her rural part of Norway.
“I like being in the city,” Stoyva said. “I love everything about it except that it is super, super loud.”
Stoyva found the pace of life faster than what she was accustomed to in Norway.
“It’s a lot of hustle and bustle, you keep moving, you keep going, you always have to do be somewhere or do something, she said. “In Norway I feel a lot of times they just stop to smell the flowers, enjoy the moment.”
RBHS is a larger school than what either Stoyva or Hachimura were used it. Stoyva’s school in Norway has only about 300 students while Hachimura’s school in Japan has about 600 students.
“RB was huge to me when I first came here,” Stoyva said.
Student-teacher relationships were different for both exchange students, but in diverging ways. In Norway, students address their teachers by their first names. In Japan, it is much more formal.
But both Stoyva and Hachimura agreed that there is more hand-holding by RBHS teachers than what they are used to.
“Teachers are a lot more ‘Oh you need to turn this in tomorrow,'” Stoyva said. “In Norway, I don’t get that. It’s your responsibility. The teacher will tell you in class one time.”
“Some American teachers treat us pretty much like a baby, like kids,” Hachimura said.
But Stoyva said there was a lot more homework at RBHS than what she was accustomed to in Norway, while Hachimura said that she had more homework in Japan. Tests are different here too. Multiple choice tests are not used in Norway, Stoyva said.
While Stoyva’s English was near perfect, Hachimura struggled more since she had studied it for only four years.
“It is still hard for me to talk to people in English,” Hachimura said.
Some teachers, especially zoology teacher Dave Monti, helped Hachimura by providing some translations of tests and quizzes.
“I think that really helped make her feel a little more comfortable,” Monti said. “She’s very hard working and as the year progressed, she really seemed to come into her own both academically and culturally. In the beginning it was probably pretty overwhelming for her.”
Hachimura, who can be shy until she feels comfortable with someone, has a great sense of humor and loves to make people laugh.
“She’s a super nice kid,” Monti said. “She’s got a good sense of humor that started to kind of slowly come out.”
Teenagers at RBHS are pretty similar to the ones they know at home both Hachimura and Stoyva said.
“They’re just the same, just stupid,” Hachimura said. “No different.”
They both went to prom. Stoyva’ date was another Norwegian foreign exchange who spent the year in Northbrook, while Hachimura’s date was a fellow RBHS student.
Both Hachimura and Stoyva will spend their final month in the United States exploring Chicago and hanging out with friends before boarding planes for their flights home on June 25.
“It’s going to be so hard to say goodbye to everyone you’ve gotten to know,” Stoyva said.
AFS, the organization that rusn the foreign exchange student program, is looking for a local family family to host a foreign exchange student at RBHS next year. If you’re interested in finding out more about this you can email AFS at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-AFS-INFO.