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Udvardi Makes ‘Life-Changing’ Trip as a Foreign Exchange Student

WOODBURY — Change isn’t easy. Most people try their best to avoid it. But this year, Nonnewaug High School foreign exchange student Dominik Udvardi proves that change is something to be embraced.

While being more than 3,000 miles away from home, Udvardi, a native of Austria, has found his place on campus after just a few short months of his new home in Connecticut.

“It’s hard to adapt to things sometimes,” said Udvardi. “It’s a nice change, and it’s always nice to see and learn new things.”

Being in the midst of his teenage years, Udvardi generally spends most of his days at school. With this comes a handful of new experiences, including new people, new curriculum, and overall a whole new learning environment.

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“The school system is completely different,” said Udvardi. “We don’t get to choose classes at home. People and society also work differently.”

The differences for Udvardi aren’t just curricular, but instead, he’s noticed that being a teenager in a new country is an especially unique experience.

“I feel like we [in Austria] are just very efficient people in a way. We are used to being upfront and bold; we don’t sugarcoat things when we talk to each other,” Udvardi said. “There aren’t really inappropriate topics to talk about because we don’t get insulted easily. The dynamics are just different.”

It’s hard to adapt to things sometimes. It’s a nice change, and it’s always nice to see and learn new things.

— Dominik Udvardi, exchange student from Austria

Despite the differences within his new environment, Udvardi didn’t hold back. On top of jumping right into the new school curriculum, he made his cheerleading debut with the Chiefs this past fall.

“I think he brings a lot of diversity to the team,” said senior cheerleader Megan Keating. “He talks about where he comes from and it’s interesting hearing it from him and finding out what it’s like in other countries. It’s interesting learning about how he was brought up, where he grew up, and especially how he speaks so many different languages. He’s just a great teammate overall.”

Not only has he made his mark in extracurricular activities, but he also excels in academics as well.

“Dominik brings a new, refreshing level of enthusiasm to the class,” said Genna Riggi, NHS yearbook instructor. “He has creative ideas and it’s really a pleasure to have him in class.”

“I feel like he’s very focused in class,” English teacher Katy Aseltine said. “Like when the teacher’s in the front of the room, he’s definitely looking at the teacher and is really paying attention to what the teacher has to say. I also feel like he takes a lot of pride in his work and does a really good job on all of his assignments.”

Experiencing life in America, albeit temporarily, is something Udvardi had wanted for several years. The process of finding the right fit wasn’t easy.

“I’ve looked into being an exchange student in different programs for almost two years,” Udvardi said. “I looked into different organizations and I talked to and had interviews with people. It’s very difficult to find someone who matches what you want to have. This is an experience that will last for years, so you want to have someone that you can trust and that will actually fulfill the things you want to do.”

Orchestrating Udvardi’s trip proved to be additionally difficult since he’s not 18, a wrinkle that took additional time to navigate.

“The process of me finding one took me about a year because I wanted to make sure that I could find an organization that would properly support me while I’m here in a foreign country as a minor,” Udvardi added. “I signed the contract with my organization in December of 2022.”

Feeling relieved after the trip was approved, Udvardi was still dreading one major factor: the travel to the U.S.

“My flight was horrible,” Udvardi said. “I was very stressed out because my organization chose my flight, I didn’t. I only knew two weeks before my trip where I would be going. They had to organize a flight for me with two stops in between, one in London and one in Charlotte, N.C., then to Hartford.”

The voyage took almost a full day.

“All of my trip was 19 hours,” Udvardi added. “I was very stressed out being in more than one airport alone. I was very nervous traveling alone because I haven’t done that before.”

After being in the U.S. for multiple months, Udvardi has made many friendships and unforgettable memories, making the thought of going home in June bittersweet.

“A special memory for me will always be my trip to [Washington] D.C. with the other exchange students from our program, or my trip to NYC with my host family,” Udvardi said. “I also got very used to the school system here and how everything works, so I’ll miss that a lot. I’ll also miss the after-school activities, especially cheerleading.”

With spring semester just beyond the horizon this month, Udvardi knows that the relationships he’s built during this trip will last a lifetime.

“My American host family is like a second family to me,” Udvardi adds. “I’ve met a lot of amazing people in school, too.”

This story was originally published on NHS Chief Advocate on January 11, 2024.