Simon Schleicher could be the poster child for foreign exchange students at Florida A&M University.
Schleicher is originally from a small village in Junkersdorf, Germany. He is a business and economics major with a concentration in consumer goods.
Schleicher was always interested in studying abroad and heard about the exchange program at FAMU at his college, Dual Hochschule Heilbronn in Germany. He jumped at the opportunity.
His family was hesitant at first with his decision to study abroad. His father wanted him to stay home and help tend the family farm, but Schleicher knew that was not the kind of business he wanted to pursue. His father often said, “Why didn’t you choose to go to the U.S. later?”
When his family noticed his consistent enthusiasm for travelling to the U.S., they grew more supportive of his decision.
Schleicher decided to attend college in the U.S. because he wanted to gain the full American experience. He also wanted to learn about the African-American community and travel as much as he could.
“The world watches the U.S. movies, listens to U.S. music and appreciates the core value of freedom. I wanted to know if the U.S. is truly number one in the world.”
Schleicher and his family have a very close bond and he speaks to them every day or every two days. During spring break his mother and three sisters were able to visit him in Tallahassee and he took them on a tour of the town and the university. At the end of their trip, they went to Orlando where they went to Disney World together and said their sad goodbyes.
In May, Schleicher and his father will be travelling to California.
The U.S. has been a constant adventure for Schleicher. He has travelled to the most popular cities in Florida, including Clearwater Beach, Tampa, Everglades, Key West, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and St. Augustine. He has also had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras and he has been to Atlanta.
“The U.S. is obviously very different from Europe. The streets are big, and the distances are wide. Americans drive a lot by car and use too much plastic.” He also grew more sensitive to racial issues and social disparities. Schleicher believes this is where the U.S. needs improvement and could learn from Europe.
“What I really love about this country is the kindness of the citizens and that most of the people mind their own business.”
Attending his first week at Florida A&M was a drastic change. He remembers walking into his first class and student stared him down wondering why he was there. “I did not feel uncomfortable because I did not know them, and they did not know me,” he said.
Schleicher said it was difficult to make friends in the beginning and it took time to gain access to the African-American community “as a foreign white person.”
Schleicher said he soon figured out why the school was 85 percent African-American students and why it was built on the highest hill in Tallahassee: “I understood how it feels to be a minority for the first time in my life.”
His experience at Florida A&M has made him aware of the strong spirit that runs through the black community. “I can feel the spirit when I walk around campus every day.”