Pouring freshly brewed tea into hand-painted Malaysian coffee mugs, junior Katharine Swindells grabs custard cremes, the British version of a vanilla Oreo, to create the perfect after-school snack that reminds her of home.
Home being 4,000 miles away in Ealing, England.
She left home with a set of expectations, but those were proven untrue when she arrived and saw some of the big differences between a 6-12 school in England and High school in the U.S.
She recalls back a year and a half ago, when her family was first told that they were moving halfway across the world. Her dad had been coming to Kansas once a month for a couple of years, working for Cerner whose headquarters are based here. Moving here permanently was always a possibility.
Although she was sad to leave traditions like walking home from school everyday with her best friends that she would walk home with from school every day and talk with for up to half an hour. Swindells was eager for the new opportunity of living in another country, and to broaden herself culturally.
With her only knowledge of Kansas being from “The Wizard of Oz”, Swindells was picturing a much more rural life than what she was used to while living so close to London.
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Learning about the move a year and half ago, Swindells was somewhat familiar with Kansas and Shawnee Mission East prior to moving, having visited twice. She came and shadowed junior Pauline Werner and then toured the school again later that year, noticing how crowded the halls were and how big East was.
“You guys have that whole school spirit thing,” Swindells said. “I love that. I never went to watch my school play [sports] and we didn’t have that whole t-shirt thing or anything. It’s like a community.”
East was not like the common American stereotype she expected, which was that girls are catty and superficial, much like the characters from one of her favorite movies, “Mean Girls”.
Swindells met a lot of her current friends in her homecoming group, one of them junior Chloie Costello.
“One time, we asked her to speak in an American accent and she said a quote from “Mean Girls,” Costello said. “She loves that movie.”
Coming from a public school that took itself as seriously as a private one here would, she is used to high expectations. At her old school, students were expected to stand when a teacher entered the room, always use sir or miss, and not do anything while in her uniform that would embarrass the school. She also was used to having each class only twice a week, so the workload was more manageable than here where teachers give only one night for most assignments.
“I’m so tired all the time, I don’t know how you guys manage,” Swindells said. “I’m barely keeping up.”
The homework load, along with 25 minute lunch periods instead of the hour she’s used to, are two of the major adjustments Swindells has made.
As far as differences between here and home, Swindells mainly notices the friendly nature here.
“The weirdest thing is when you go to the supermarket and they pack your bags for you,” Swindells said. “That weirds me out so much. At home they expect you to pack your own bags.”
Swindells is planning on getting involved in the lighting crew of the musical, something she enjoyed back home. Along with that, she is interested in the Harbinger staff and has done work for the FreeLancer already this year. A fan of opinion writing, Swindells loves any chance to share her opinion, her favorite topic being politics.
In the same way that many Americans got up at the crack of dawn to watch the royal wedding in 2011, the Swindells family was up at four in the morning awaiting the American presidential election result between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
“I was so scared,” said Swindells. “Like I can’t move if Mitt Romney wins the election.” Unlike a lot of people who enjoy following the Royal Family, Swindells is not a fan.
“Quite a lot of us in England think that they are just unnecessary and cost us a lot of money,” said Swindells.
Because she realized that she would be starting over in college anyway, the move didn’t end up bothering her so much. She was upset to leave her life in England behind, but excited to start a new one with new opportunities in the U.S. All in all, Swindells has been happy with how her life has changed since moving here, and looks forward to everything the East has to offer her.