Szalkiewicz takes foreign-exchange to a whole new level


Photo Courtesy of Sophie Koecher-Schulz

Mikayla Wood, Staff Writer

Many students are familiar with the Austrian exchange-program that takes place every year.  However, senior Brittany Szalkiewicz takes this experience a step further–she plans to visit Austria in the near future to reconnect with her new friend Sophie Koecher-Schulz.

Even more unique, Koecher-Schulz coming to California was not the first time they met, which is the case for most students.  In fact, they already knew her whole family.

“Two years ago, we hosted [an Austrian] for the first time, his name was Luis. And, he was super awesome and we had a lot of fun with him,” senior Brittany Szalkiewicz said. “Sophie was his younger sister, so we decided to host her because we kept in touch with their family.”

Despite the two never formally meeting before she came, they still connected through each other’s families.

“It was great to meet Brittany and her whole family in-person,” Austrian exchange student Sophie Koecher-Schulz said. “I knew them because of what my brother told me, but it was nice to get a face to what he said.”

The two weeks they spent together were filled with new experiences. Koecher-Schulz was exposed to the American school system, lots of fast food, big cars, and the all-American store Costco.

“We went to UCSB to take my brother to college and that was fun and so beautiful and she was so amazed by it,” Szalkiewicz said. “We walked along the beach and picked up shells and went in the water and it was fun because she doesn’t have an ocean and it’s something that’s so easy for us to go and do and she was amazed by it so it was cool to watch her and see her experience it.”

The two families reuniting has come to an end as Koecher- Schulz leaves back for Austria, but they plan to stay in touch just as often as before, and even reunite in the future.  

“In Austria, we use an app called WhatsApp and everybody uses it,” Koecher-Schulz said. “So, I made Brittany get it and we can stay in touch via email or Facebook.”

Szalkiewicz plans on seeing the different culture and experiences Austria has to offer first hand, and a lot of her hopes are inspired by Koecher-Schulz.

“Everything just seems so laid-back [in Austria],”  Szalkiewicz said. ” They don’t have a curfew, they spend ten hours at school, so when they go home they’re free to do whatever they want, and they take the train everywhere.  We will probably have a couple of short trips.  I want to study abroad, but I think that German could be a hard language to immerse yourself in.”