Note: It has been well over 10 years since this happened, but I think about this more often than I am happy to admit.
When I was 15 I went for an exchange year in the US. I was a Junior in a normal High School. In my first English course, the very first thing the teacher did was play a game to learn the names of everyone. Most students knew each others names already, since they have been on the same grade for 2 years. I didn't know anyone. The teacher told us to make a line, from the "dumbest" student at the door, to the "smartest" student at the window side. The student on the "dumb" side would start stating their name, the next student had to repeat the first students name and add their own, and so on. The "smartest" student had to repeat all names.
So far so good, but my English back then was awful, and I was used to British pronunciation. Furthermore the room was noisy and I was sitting in the back. So instead of "dumb" and "smart", I understood "tall" and "short". Me being from Germany (where it was more normal to wear dress shoes with a heel for a good first impression) and being naturally tall, I was on the "dumb" end.
The teacher approached me immediately asking me why I stood were I stood, looking over to the line I immediately noticed the people were not in order of their height. So I told him I must have misunderstood him, and if he could repeat where I am supposed to stand. And he replied while laughing: "You giving that answer shows me you stand exactly where you are supposed to stand!"
This made the entire class laugh and I did not understand why. So I didn't do anything, just stood there trying very hard not cry, and telling myself they did not mean to hurt me. A class mate explained what was funny to me afterwards, but I wasn't able to make any friends in that class for the entire year. I made friends in other classes though, and with the girls in the volleyball team I joined. I wanted to come across as a likable person who can take a joke and is open to their culture.
Here is my question:
How should I have handled being laughed at in a room full of people (who do not mean to harm me) in a foreign country with limited language abilities? Is there (specific to the US) a way to take this gracefully and without coming of as humorless or stuck up? Please take into consideration that most important to me was the impression I made on my classmates, as I did not have any friends yet.