So as some people may know, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the 2012-2013 batch of YES exchange student program from Indonesia to United States of America. Some part of myself believe that it was not lucky, it was a long journey full of effort and dedication after nearly two years of patience and competition. It was a tough competition between me and the scholarship: which one is way better than the other?
But anyway, time passed by and here I am now, enjoying some ofthe last weeks in America, and literally the last week of my American school.
I wrote this post in hope that it can help any future exchange students that are going to attend an American-system school in picking classes during their stay, one of many reasons is to not repeat my errors.
1. Determine first whether your school system is using yearly basis or block (semester) basis
Now this is very important. If you don't know the difference, first you have to know how America's school system works. Basically, you get to choose you own class. Yearly system means you will have the same classes for all year long (which usually you will take 6 classes), and block system means you'll have 4 classes for the first semester, and another different 4 classes the next semester. Now in my case, I had the yearly system. That's when it's very tricky in choosing class. When you have a yearly system, you have to be very careful of what class you're going to take, because you'll stuck with it the whole year. In my opinion, when you have a yearly system, you kinda have to give up fun classes that you were thinking of taking, or limit them into just one classes. It is true that during your exchange year, you'd like to try different classes that your country doesn't have, but keep in mind that you need to exercise your mind before coming back home. Some of us will go straight to college (or college entrance exam), and as for my case, I will go straight to my senior year and preparing for our end of school's exam and university exam. Which is crazy hard.
Now, if you have a block system, good for you! Although you may not have that many classes for each semester, now you can just balance it out! You get to take classes you want to try and the ones that you feel like will help your brain exercise. You probably can pick two fun classes instead of one!
2. Exchange Class Policy
One thing to be noted, whether you get your school schedule before you arrive on the country or just know it when you arrive, go make sure whether there's an exchange class policy that some schools have (including my school). What it means that during the first 25 days of school (basically fthe first one), you are given the chance to change classes as you wish and it won't bother your report card. Now this will help you a lot anytime you feel like the class is too easy and it doesn't help you exercise your mind a lot, you can change it to a harder class. If you think the class is too hard, consider this first: is it because the difference of the language that makes it hard or you just simply think that what they study in the class is hard (like, you also have problem with the same type of class in your country?). If it's because the language, just bear with it for several weeks, you'll get better at it. But if it's because you have problem with the same type of classes in your country you might want to consider taking similar classes that are a bit easier, or just change. After that 25 days policy, anytime you change your class you will probably have a zero for the previous class for your previous quarter, I think. Some schools have different policy, I guess. But that's what my guidance counselor told me when I was going to change a class. So be wise!
3. Determine your English level: is it okay? Good? Or you barely survive?
If your English is ranging from good to okay, you may want to consider taking harder classes such as Math, Science, and etc. instead of cultural arts or language. It's not that I regretted my cultural arts class, in fact I love my art class so much that I wished I could bring my art teacher back home, but some of my other classes were made for either freshmen and sophomores--which mean it sort of teaching you from the beginning. If you feel like you have an okay to good English, choose classes that will eventually help you going back to your country, especially Indonesia. You may want to consider taking Honors classes (means that students who go to this class are a bit smarter than most of the school and the level of study that they do is a bit harder, more challenging, but also score higher than the usual grade) or AP classes (the classes have the same quality for college classes, and if you tak the AP exam, you can use it as a credit for college). But if you feel like having a really good English, you may want to consider just taking regular classes. But still, pick the classes that will exercise your mind the most!
4. How's your school back in your country?
You also need to use your homecountry school as reference. Are you in a quite top-notch high school? Does your high school has a pretty high standard and it's hard to get in? Is the level of classes in there is high? Or moderate? Now based on that, pick the level of classes from regular, Honors, to AP. If you feel that your school is just okay at studying, you may want to pick regular or honors classes--recommended. Usually in honors classes, most of the kids are those who did pretty good during their school year, so you'll get to hang out around students who do good and probably encourage you to study more. If you feel that your homeschool is quite high standard, you may want to consider honors-AP classes. Now in AP classes, only certain people who do very good in their previous classes will be allowed to take the class, because the setting of the class is using the same basis for college class, although it may be a little easier. Students who are in AP classes are usually from honors classes, too. You may get a little problem in the beginning, due to language. But after that, you'll do fine, and you get to hang out around people who have at least the willingness to study and a better class environment.
5. You'll find friends anywhere you go!
One of my regrets is that I considered the people I get along with instead of classes that I'll be needing. I thought, "Well I'm just going to be here for a year, so it didn't matter what classes I'm taking, if I feel comfortable with the people in it, I can bear the class." Wrong! Well, it's true that it is very important to be comfortable around your classes. But please do consider the quality of the class as well. If it (or the teacher) frustrates you, despite the fact that you're having good time with your friends, you may want considering changing classes. You'll find friend anywhere you go, don't let only that factor affects your decision.
6. Take US History and English!
As in my exchange program, we are obligated to take those two classes. Being in America, taking its history class will help you a lot understanding the personality of the nation. Also, there's many cool stories about American's history that I would have never learn before. With the way of how teacher's teaching in America (you see them every single day), you'll gain a great understanding about US' history. English, in some way, may be one of a quite harder class despite of it being honors or regulars. But in this class, teachers will help exercise your mind in taking notes from passages and help you with your writings as well--one that I need so bad, because I love writing.
7. Take Pre-Calculus or Calculus instead of Geometry and Algebra
I took Geometry because I thought, since my senior year back in my home country will be studying some of geometry and I'm not that good at it, taking it here might help. Slightly wrong. How the class system in America is that they will basically teach you the very basic of a subject, in my geometry class, I learnt from the beginning about definitions of shapes and forms--instead of going straight to problems like we used to in my country. Now I'm not saying that it's bad, but it may not help you as well. See, many of Pre-calculus and Calculus materials will be used for my exams in my country, and that's why I should've taken that class instead. Despite how much I enjoyed being part of the class, I'd still rather take a harder class to help me remembering the weird integral, functions, and so on. Now, if your American school starts using that Math I, Math II, Math III type of class instead of Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calc, you may want to take Math II or higher. The Math type class is more like Indonesian-math class, where each of everything is fused into a one year program.
8. Take classes that you know you have trouble understanding back in your country
Now, some people might say don't do this because then it'll mess your mind about the subject. But I personally think that, with the system of meeting your teaching every single day, you will get great help understanding the classes that you used to having problem with. If I were given the chance to pick classes again, I'd take Chemistry and Physics, just because I feel like I'm not very good at those two subjects so I need a better insight on it. Use this chance to expand your view about the subjects that you didn't really like or good at.
9. Take Art!
I dedicate this for my Art teacher. Go find out about the art class program in you school. If it sounds interesting and you never did it before, take the class! Or stay in the class! I was fortunate that I had such wonderful art teacher and I was able to explore my art interest in watercolor and clay. You better try it, too!
10. Language class is an okay option.
If and only if you think that you will have some slots left after taking the important classes, you may want to consider taking language classes. It's not as recommended as my art class, but if you have the chance, you can consider taking it.
11. Do a sport!
Rather than taking physical ed. class, you may want to use the remaining slot for classes that will help you, and join a sports club instead! You'll get the chance to feel the real American tradition through its sports, too. And meeting new people, new friends, perhaps new family!
I could not think of anything else that I need to share regarding on how to choose classes in America's school system. Basically these are the main points you need to keep in mind while choosing a class. If you ever have any question, feel free to ask!