Exchange students appreciate the chance to experience the USA

By TESA STRASSER The Press-News Published:

Exciting or terrifying? Leaving all that is familiar and traveling thousands of miles away to a different culture in a country that speaks a foreign language, all at the age of 15. I would say "terrifying" but four brave teens have done just that to spend the school year with families in Canton Local.

Kwan Sukkham, from Thailand, is staying with Mike and Brenda Brand. She refers to her host family as "sweet people" and has found the language difference to be the greatest challenge of her exchange student adventure, followed closely by the adjustment to American food. She has taken it all in stride and is enjoying her school year.

Coming all the way from Spain is Carlos Iturrioz. He is staying with Tena and Walt Hall and their son Cory. Carlos hopes to play tennis in the spring. His sister was an exchange student to Canton Local a few years ago and encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunity. He had attended a summer camp in New England so he had some idea of what to expect in America, making the trip a little less intimidating.

From Denmark, Emma Redder is staying with Lisa and Carl Hookway. She also is following in the footsteps of a courageous sister. Her quiet demeanor makes her difficult to read, but clearly states her appreciation for her host family. The chance to ride a motorcycle was especially exciting to her.

Penny Frank is staying with Jennette and Matt McKelley. She greatly enjoys sharing a room with her host sister, Alex. "They are the sweetest people alive," she stated with much enthusiasm. Having traveled from Germany she notes the huge difference in the educational system of the two countries. In Germany, students are divided into three ability levels after the fourth grade and assigned to schools accordingly. Here, everyone is together through high school. Another big difference is that college is free in Germany. Her message to students considering being an exchange student: "If you get a chance to do it, it's the best thing ever."

All four students are thankful for Skype, which makes communication easier with loved ones far away. They also agree the most stressful part of the experience was anticipating it. According to Redder, "Those few days in New York on the way here were really hard." Once in their host homes the Wildcats kindness made the transition easy.

With the holidays approaching, a whole new set of cultural challenges await these four students. Fortunately they will view them as opportunities and have lots of support as they continue to wade though new waters.

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