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WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

From South Africa to WA: meet new international student Lukhanyo Sijadu

Elitsa Koleva
International student from South Africa and junior at WA, Lukhanyo Sijadu, sits in the library.

For any high schooler, traveling outside of their home country on their own, even for a week, can be scary. For long-term international students, this feeling can be felt on an even greater scale. Yet, few can take it with as much ease as WA’s newest junior, Lukhanyo Sijadu, who has come all the way from South Africa.

For Sijadu, this experience will last the entire 2023-24 school year, in which he will be enrolled as a student at WA through the AFS Intercultural Program, a highly selective foreign exchange agency. In addition to being matched with WA, Sijadu is also currently staying with his host parents, Stephen and Melissa Braga, in Tewksbury, where they live with two dogs.

According to Sijadu, coming from South Africa took a lot of adjustment. He describes South Africa as a culturally diverse country with nine provinces and eleven official languages. In the town where he lives, located in the Eastern Cape, Sijadu speaks isiXhosa with family and friends. He also knows a little bit of Afrikaans, a language spoken in the Western Cape, and became fluent in English while going to an English private school.

“Capetown is one of the [biggest cities] and also Johannesburg and Pretoria, so South Africa, I would say, is a lovely place. And you would want to join [and] go there just to see it,” Sijadu said.

According to Sijadu, the first few days at WA were very overwhelming, as he felt nervous about being new and kept getting lost in the building, looking for his classes. However, trying out for the JV soccer team prior to the start of school proved to be incredibly beneficial, as he was able to form connections with people which carried into the classroom.

“When I went [to school] the first two days, I got lost a lot of times,” Sijadu said. “Then, on the second week, I met new people and new people knew me but it was still overwhelming because I didn’t know which side of the building I was on. [By the] fourth week, it was just like it currently is. Everything’s cool, I made new friends and I’m on the soccer team.”

Sijadu poses in his JV Boys’ Soccer uniform next to Director of Athletics Jeff Bunyon. (Provided by Lukhanyo Sijadu)

In fact, his host family encouraged him to pursue sports after learning that he enjoyed playing volleyball and soccer in South Africa. Although it was not yet the season for boys’ volleyball, Sijadu was able to tryout for soccer and got recruited on the JV team.

“When we talked to our liaison [for the exchange agency], she mentioned that if Luks was interested in joining clubs or anything like that, it would be a good way for him to be introduced to new students,” Melissa Braga said. “I think he’s adjusting well and making friends. He has a very good self-confidence, which is great and I see that every time I pick him up from soccer practice or even after the games.”

According to Sijadu, a major part of his support system is his host family, who guides him through his daily life here. Among some of the things they bond over are discussing the different sports in America and South Africa, as well as simply being there for each other like family. In school, his new friends allow him to express himself, which he believes is very important.

During a trip to Newburyport with his host mom, Sijadu poses next to a Harbor Tours statue. (Provided by Lukhanyo Sijadu)

“I’d say, my host family are definitely boosting me so that I can have a quality time. So far, I’ve seen a couple of family members on their side and Boston,” Sijadu said. “And friends [because] when I’m with friends, that’s when I express myself.”

When it came to making new friends, Sijadu never realized how naturally it came to him until he met so many new people at WA. Yet, he mainly accounts people’s genuine interest in getting to know him as what made these friendships happen.

“Obviously, people met me, I didn’t [just] meet them. People that actually got an interest immediately like, ‘How is South Africa?’. So […] that’s how they got involved, with people asking me all these questions,” Sijadu said.

Although he has always been interested in traveling abroad, studying in an American high school was not something he had planned. In fact, Sijadu first got the idea after hearing about a former student at his school who got into the AFS Intercultural Program, and applied out of curiosity.

“When we found out [that the former student got accepted], my teacher went to our class and was like ‘if someone else is interested in taking this on you can come’. So I took one of my friends and we went to take the paper test so that we can apply,” Sijadu said. “I was just doing it for the sake of doing it […]. But I would say, [about] a month after I applied, I had to be interviewed and when that started I was like ‘okay, this is true’.”

By the end of the application process, Sijadu was the only one applying from his school since the others stopped halfway, worried about going so far from home. Despite this, Sijadu was excited by the prospect of going to school in another country.

“I definitely think [the international students] are all very brave, [especially] as a teenager […] to go abroad for a year,” International Student Coordinator Tim Welch said. “They are also so friendly and open and flexible because if you’re going to spend all this time in a foreign country, you have to be able to go with the flow. And Luks is very funny and charming. Very polite.”

Despite being so far away from home, Sijadu says he rarely feels homesick, since he has so many new friends and experiences here to keep him busy. According to Sijadu, when his father learned about the international program, he was surprised, yet excited for him.

“[My father] was so happy and he was like ‘just don’t get lost when you’re there’ and he was sort of goofing around. My siblings do miss me a lot but they know I’ll come back,” Sijadu said.

When it comes to studying here beyond the international exchange this year, Sijadu would love to return, as he believes the friendships he makes here will be long lasting. With the year having just begun, he is also excited to continue making new friends and visiting new places.

“I mean, [I would love to] meet new friends and hang out with [them]. Also, going to places […] like New York City and seeing the Statue of Liberty with my host parents. So far I’ve seen a baseball game with the Red Sox,” Sijadu said. “Things like that, I imagine when I’m at home […], but when you ask me [now], they kind of flash by.”

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About the Contributor
Elitsa Koleva, Managing Editor
Hello! My name is Elitsa and I am a junior. I enjoy reading and watching the news, plus I like to write, which are some of the reasons behind me taking Journalism. I like to swim, paint and read! 

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