When exchange student Philine Scholz, 16, first arrived in the United States, she thought it was so kind for people to keep asking how she was.
The phrase "how are you?" is not a common one in her home country, Germany - that is, unless you really want to know.
At first she thought, "Oh that's really nice. They really care about you."
When she eventually noticed that those same people stopped waiting for her to respond to the question before bouncing along to another topic, she was a bit disheartened.
"Hey, people. I'm here," she would think to herself.
She was equally confused when she'd hear people say, "Give me a buzz," meaning "call me later."
In a country where nearly everything is foreign, even simple greetings, you have to learn quickly. It's sink or swim.
At first glance, Philine, who attends Lodi High School, looks like any other student. She smiles easily and her jeans, brown shirt and cream-colored bubble vest look like she could've bought them at the local mall.
Those close to her, though, say it's her dedication, her bright personality and fortitude that set her apart.
At Lodi High, where she is one of several exchange students, Philine is earning excellent grades in all her classes, including advanced placement French and English.
"Philine, where to begin?" mused Todd Oesterman, her AP French teacher. "She has a certain work ethic that you just don't see very often in American teenagers."
She has joined a local church, with which she's gone on several mission trips to San Francisco and Mexico, and once sang in front of its congregation.
She has also picked up a few American customs, like Thanksgiving dinner, which she plans to take with her when she returns to Germany.
As a small child, Philine always wanted to come to the United States, even if it didn't happen in high school, when many German children have the chance to study abroad during their junior year.
"(People in Germany) think everything is glamorous in America," Philine said. "I wanted to know if it's really like that."
She was a sophomore when one of her teachers suggested that she go a year early. Only, the deadline had already past.
In June, Philine rushed to fill out the passed-due application and turn it in to TASTE, a German agency that coordinates study-abroad trips.
Her contact at TASTE told her that they would try to find a host family for her.
Philine didn't tell the agency that she longed to go to California, hoping just to be able to go at all.
Almost half a world away, Lodi resident Debbie Fine, a mother of four girls - the youngest of which left for college Saturday - got news at church that there were exchange students looking for families to stay with.
Casually flipping through Philine's profile, she noticed her interest in gardening, the outdoors and that she was a Christian, and thought, "Oh, that's our girl."
Usually, TASTE gives its exchange students a year to prepare to go abroad. Philine got just three weeks.
She found out in mid-August that the Fine family of Lodi, California would house her. By September, she was there.
Now that Philine has spent some time in Lodi, she has realized a few things: It's not always sunny in California, and there isn't a movie star waiting to talk to you on every corner.
When asked about what she thinks of the United States, Philine says, "You cannot say it's better or worse than Germany. It's just different."
The following is a list of differences Philine has seen between her two homes.
In Germany, every house looks unique.
To Philine, American houses look more or less the same.
She said it's almost as if you could pick one out of a catalogue.
People watch much more television in the United States than Germany.
Philine said, if the television's on in Germany, people are usually watching it and not doing anything else.
Americans, she said, tend to have the TV on in the background while doing a number of different tasks.
Americans eat out much more often.
Philine said in Germany she would go to a restaurant maybe twice a month. In the United States she finds herself eating out twice a week.
Compared to the United States, Germany has much more public transportation.
In German cities, Philine said, it's much more difficult to find a parking space, so most people take public transportation.
For the most part, when people in the United states want to go somewhere, they drive.
In German schools, much more of a student's grade is based on in-class participation - up to 60 percent. The teacher also interacts with the students more.
German students also take 12 classes at a time.
The United States has many more immigrants, she's noticed.
"That is what's special about America," she said.
The Wal-Mart in her town closed because not enough people went there.
In Lodi, Wal-Mart has survived for years and a possible Wal-Mart Supercenter could be coming.
Philine was also a bit taken aback when Fine struck up a conversation with somebody standing behind her in the check-out line at Wal-Mart, something she said would never happen in Germany.
But Philine has learned to take the new and sometimes strange experiences in stride and even learned a few lessons along the way.
The TASTE program allows her to call her family only twice a month and e-mail them only twice a week, a rule Philine found especially difficult during the holidays.
Her mother, step-father and two sisters, ages 3 and 9 months, live in Ehlhalten, a suburb of Frankfurt.
"When the ocean is separating you from your family, you really learn (to appreciate) the little things," Philine said.
But what has been a temporary loss for her German family has been a real gain for her American one.
"I love having her," Fine said. "Her mother has instilled some good qualities in her."
That hasn't stopped some students from testing her, though.
"I was confronted with Hitler," Philine said.
Though she feels terrible about the atrocities of World War II, she doesn't feel that there's anything that she, a 16-year-old girl, can do about something that happened 60 years ago.
"I've really tried to downplay that," said Fine, who thinks that every country has had rulers of whom they're not proud.
Part of being away from home, though, Philine said, is learning to be tolerant and independent.
"You really grow up when you're in a different country," she said. "I don't have my mom I can go to and say, 'Mom, I need your help.'"
Philine will leave the United States in June. And though that's still months away, she's not looking forward to it.
"I am not ready to leave."