American students who find high school dreary and confining should have a chat with Aniket Datir.

Aniket – a college-bound 16-year-old senior spending the year at Seaside High School on a Rotary exchange from Nagpur, India – loves the American high school experience almost as much as he loves basketball. And that’s saying something.

The young scholar – who admits he underwent mild culture shock upon arriving in Portland Aug. 27 – doesn’t hesitate to bring up the differences between public schools in America and the school he attended in India.

Cultural differences

“Honestly speaking, high schools in America are awesome. They are so good. Everything is different,” he said. “In India, we go to school, we sit on a wooden bench for the whole day with some uniform and a bag of books. We don’t have lockers, no gyms.”

On the first day of school, Sept. 3, Aniket was pleasantly “shocked.”

“What is this?” he remembers asking himself. “School lockers? No uniform? Students are doing whatever they want? They are just going with any girl? They are just kissing anyone?”

Dating – though it does happen secretly, he said – is simply not tolerated at Indian high schools. Neither are cellphones.

“We have to be very strict and disciplined,” he said.

What is tolerated, encouraged and commonplace in Indian, however, is ritualized corporal punishment, often in front of the class and involving bamboo sticks.

“That’s the worst thing,” he said, recalling instances in which his classmates were beaten for failing to turn in homework, show up to class regularly and other standard high school transgressions.

His basketball coach, he said, will even beat his players when they lose games.

“It happened to me,” Aniket said. He was surprised to learn that such things do not usually happen here. “American high school is, oh, so good.”

Another major difference, he said, is his country’s obsession with earning high marks.

“Every Indian family, every father and mother, wants their children to be in the 90 or 95 percent,” he said. “People are only worried about academics.”

The courses on offer in the U.S. are more varied, which means that more students are able to discover their strengths and how to play to them.

“(There are) many things you can learn here. If you want to become a cook, you can take culinary arts classes here,” he said.

And for sports enthusiasts like Aniket – who is currently running cross country and building his endurance to play basketball in the winter – it makes a world of difference that American public schools actually fund their sports programs. In his city, “there are not a lot of sports.”

“In India, we don’t have indoor gyms. That is the worst thing I have ever seen,” he said. “We have to play outside basketball, and if it’s raining, we have to quit practice. No swimming pools, nothing.”

Adjustments

This is Aniket’s first time out of India, and though he was used to eating American cuisine, the ubiquitous pastas and meats took some getting used to.

“When I came, the food was a major problem for me,” he said. “I was not in the habit of eating spaghetti and beef ... so the (first) couple of weeks, I had some problems, but now I’m OK.”

On his first night in Cannon Beach, his host father, Scott Davis – whose wife, Eliza Davis, contributes to the Cannon Beach Gazette – prepared hamburgers. Though Aniket’s family in Indian is not particularly religious, he does hail from a Hindu culture in which cows are sacred.

It was the first burger Aniket had ever eaten, and “it was awesome,” he said.

Aniket knows his way around the English language.

“We used to speak English in (my) school, so it was not a problem for me to learn the language” he said, adding that in India he watched many American movies and learned from them as well. He is also enrolled in an honors English course in addition to advanced algebra, advanced sports, computer programming and zoology.

“He came to us with excellent English skills and a strong educational background,” said Sheila Roley, principal at Seaside High School.

In his spare time, Aniket enjoys writing computer programs and studying robotics. Seaside High School teacher Mike Brown has accepted Aniket onto the robotics team, where Aniket looks forward to creating “drones.”

Hoop dreams

Aniket’s goal is to get admitted to Portland State University and play basketball in the National Collegiate Athletic Association when it selects players for the NBA draft.

In India, “there are great players looking forward to making their career in basketball,” according to Aniket. But, he said, “there is no value of basketball.”

This is one of the reasons he hopes to stay remain stateside when his 11-month exchange comes to an end.

“I want to live in America. That’s why I’m doing all these things,” he said, gesturing toward the SAT books spread out before him.

When asked, “Why basketball?” it was clear that Aniket had already given the question some thought.

“It’s 60 percent mental and 40 percent physical,” he said. “It’s not a sport that anyone can play.”

His favorite NBA team is the Los Angeles Lakers, the home of his favorite player, Kobe Bryant. Former Philadelphia 79rs all-star Allen Iverson is also close to his heart.

Foreign exchange

Aniket is the third exchange student the Davis family has welcomed into their home, a custom they make room for every other year. Their first student came from Germany, their second from Brazil.

Eliza Davis welcomes students like Aniket into her home because, for her and her family, “without traveling, it’s a way of experiencing, in an intimate way, what life is like somewhere else.”

“I just want to make sure that all of these (students), brave enough to travel at that young age, that they’re taken care of and loved,” she said.

She added that they have always hosted male students, which gives their son, Sonny, a brother figure to hang with. “It’s good for my kids,” she said.

Sonny is also a senior at Seaside High School. His sister, Taylor, is a sophomore attending the University of Oregon.

“They are a very good family,” Aniket said.

The Rotary program is a “really wonderful program,” Roley said.

High school students benefit from the foreign exchange program in two ways, she said.

One is that they have the opportunity to host students from other cultures and learn about those cultures.

Second, the high school typically sends one or two of its own students to such countries as Denmark and Taiwan. In addition to Aniket, Seaside High School is also hosting a Danish student this year.

“I just came with an open mind,” Aniket said. “Compared to Indian, I like to live in America.”

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