Maria Carrillo High School senior Angie Howard, center, is flanked by some of her host family in Hameln, Germany. Photo courtesy of Angie Howard


Three Maria Carrillo High School students wake up in the morning, grab all their things, and head out the door to school. But they are not going to the east Santa Rosa school.
Senior Angie Howard, junior Dante Mazzanti and junior Katie Chesnut are studying abroad this year in Europe. Both Mazzanti and Howard live with host families, with Mazzanti in Sabadell, a suburb of Barcelona, Spain, and Howard in Hameln, Germany.
Chesnut, unlike Mazzanti and Howard, is living with her extended family while she studies abroad in Jarvenpaa, Finland.
Chesnut is among eight foreign students at her high school, called “lukio” in Finnish. Although Chesnut is not entirely fluent in Finnish, “I can communicate pretty well,” she said.
There is a pronounced difference between her Finnish “lukio” and Maria Carrillo, she said. Although still five days a week, her schedule is “much more relaxed,” with each of her school days never exceeding five hours. Attending high school is not required by the Finnish government.
“Unlike in California, only the people who want to go to (high school) go to” school, she said.
At the mention of returning to Santa Rosa, Chesnut said glumly, “I suppose I do have to go back, even though I’d like to stay.”
Mazzanti noticed a similar trend in more relaxed schooling in Spain as well. There is not a lot of homework, and teachers and students alike have a laid-back approach.
“There is a mentality that if you don’t do well, it’s your own fault,” Mazzanti said.
He said one of his biggest challenges has been the language barrier. “It can be difficult at times when everyone is throwing a lot of Spanish at you,” but it is a part of the whole experience, he said.
Two primary languages are spoken in Barcelona: Catalan and Spanish. Catalan is the native language to the eastern region of Spain and is hard to learn, “but it’s pronunciation is more similar to English in some cases,” Mazzanti said. While most of his classes are taught in Spanish, the textbooks are written in Catalan.
Even though the school system is much different, life in some aspects, “is kind of the same,” he said. Spaniards “are worried about the same things. You have Occupy Wall Street in the U.S. and protests here,” Mazzanti said.
A more relaxed European lifestyle is seen socially as well as in schools.
“Once you’re 16 (in Germany), it’s the equivalent of being 21 back in the States,” Howard said. “Students frequently drink and smoke at school.”
Howard attends the local high school, Schiller Gymnasium, in Hameln, Germany. When asked what the differences are between her new school and Carrillo, she said the “better question would be, ‘What are the similarities?’ The school systems are so different.”
All three say how much their study-abroad programs have changed them. Studying abroad “puts all your problems in perspective,” Chesnut said. “It makes you feel insignificant.”
“It’s changing me every day,” Howard said. “I’m learning about independence and how to take care of myself.”
This story was reprinted from Maria Carrillo High School’s student newspaper Puma Prensa.