When Raman Lee came to this country and enrolled at Bowie High School 11 months ago as part of an international student exchange program, the youngster from New Zealand discovered right away that things in the States were going to be a lot different from the way they were Down Under.

"First, they had all these kids in the school; and they weren't wearing uniforms. They wore these wild clothes. It was great," recalled Lee, now 18 and approaching the end of his 11-month U.S. visit. "In the school I attended, you had to wear a uniform all the way up to junior year. Only the seniors were allowed to dress any way they wanted to."

Lee's reaction is understandable. When a teenager one day uproots himself and moves to another part of the world to resume his life, a little culture shock is to be expected.

For years, high school students like Lee have been able to experience the thrill of traveling to foreign countries through the efforts of various international foreign exchange programs. In Prince George's County, as in other places the Washington area, many of those students have been welcomed into such programs.

"I can't describe how stimulating it has been getting to know the vast array of people I've met since I've been in this country," said Lee, who attended school in a fishing and farming town in Northern New Zealand. "There are a lot of differences between here and home, but there are just as many similarities."

Lee came to this country through the intercultural student exchange program of the American Field Service (AFS), which has student exchange programs in 70 countries worldwide. AFS, which has 3,000 students in the country, has placed nine students from eight foreign countries in Bowie, Pallotti, Parkdale, Northwestern and Roosevelt high schools this year.

Among the most important aspects of their work, AFS officials said, is ensuring that students are comfortable during the tough transition period. Before a student arrives in this country, the AFS representatives -- who are usually volunteers -- work to match the youth with a compatible host family.

Locally, that process is complicated by the abundance of foreign exchange students who come to the Washington area. AFS is just one exchange program operating in the Washington area, and finding enough families to act as hosts can be an exhaustive task.

"Because of what it offers culturally, the Washington area has been kind of inundated with foreign exchange programs, and it sometimes has been difficult to find families to host the kids," said Janice Schuler, area representative for AFS, who works at Northwestern High School. "All the kids get homesick at some point, and that initial adjustment {to school and to the family} is very important. So, in placing them, finding the right chemistry is important."

One criticism of foreign exchange programs is that many less fortunate students are denied the opportunity to participate because of the cost can be prohibitive (usually somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000 to cover expenses during an 11-month visit). But some of the foreign exchange groups, AFS for one, are attempting to eliminate that problem by offering scholarships and grants to eligible youngsters from all countries, although the cost is still out of the reach of many.

"The goal is to get the best kids {into the foreign exchange program}, regardless of their economic background," said Bill Replane, the AFS coordinator at Bowie. "We don't want it to be a 'rich kids' program."

Many of the students delight in the newness of things most Americans find commonplace.

"One of the first things I noticed was that when the bell rings here, students just get right up and walk to the next class. In Japan, the students don't leave the class until the teacher tells you that class is over," said 17-year-old Bowie exchange student Akiko Suzuki. "Another thing is that most of the girls wear makeup. Most Japanese high schools don't allow that. But girls here do read fashion magazines a lot, same as in Japan."

"The big difference is that most young people here aren't involved in political things very much," said Paolo Benzi, an 18 year-old from Rome, who is attending Parkdale. "In Italy, teenagers are always discussing what is happening in the country with political policy and all. Here, there is not much interest in such things. They do different types of things to pass the time."

Next to the initial culture shock, the biggest adjustment facing exchange students is the language. Most students do not come from English-speaking countries, and those who do must still contend with the complexities of American grammar, slang and current phrases.

"It was hard to make friends the first few weeks, because of the language problem," said Suzuki, who still apologizes for her English despite a more-than-adequate command of the language. "But I am taking American history and American literature," she laughed. "I had to learn."

"It was very difficult for me to learn English for the first few months," Benzi said. "It was terrible for me . . . like a nightmare. But fortunately my {host} family has helped me out a lot. I'm not as uncomfortable anymore."

For others, like Lee, it is the accent, not the language itself, that draws interest. "It {the language} has been relatively easy for me. I think the kids like Akiko are very brave to come to a country where you have to learn a completely new language," said Lee, who has attracted a good deal of good-natured attention for his "Crocodile Dundee" dialect. "Me, I copped out a wee bit by coming to an English-speaking country. My only problem was that everybody found my voice unusual. But, to be honest, I used to lap up all the attention."

The students must also adapt to the teaching styles of American schools. Schuler said that almost all exchange students come from "very academic programs . . . similar to our prep schools." Thus, they are exposed to an educational approach that is vastly different from that of their own country.

"The school system I come from is really academic. We'd have to study five or six hours a day in subjects like Latin, Greek, philosophy, music and the classics," said Benzi. "Here, the work is a little more superficial, but you learn a little bit about everything."

Schuler agrees. "They are learning more than just from books," she said. "They are learning about our culture. All the AFS students are required to take U.S. history, so they learn that history is different from an American perspective. They learn where we are coming from."

"Before I came here, I used to think that Americans were loud-mouthed, rich and war-minded," Lee confessed. "The greatest thing this program does is that it helps get rid of stereotypes. You get a chance to see things through American eyes. It's good to know that you can find neat people all over the world."