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Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Four exchange students here to share their culture

Sharing cultures is a learning experience and what better way to do that than in the school.

Four foreign exchange students have come to the area to attend a year of high school. It will be a learning experience for each of them as they come to know about this nation and as they open up and reveal information about themselves and their countries, many will learn from them.

It is a big undertaking, on their part, to leave their families and friends for a year and go into a new country where surroundings and words are different. Host families open their homes to the foreign exchange students and give them the feel of a typical American home life.

Storm Lake is fortunate to have a student visiting from Thailand; Alta has a student from Slovakia and a student from Korea; and Aurelia has a student from Germany.

Benjawan Kongpitee, who goes by the name of "Apple," is staying in the home of Randy and Somchit Peffer, Storm Lake. She is a senior at SLHS. Her school in Thailand is quite different than school in the Storm Lake.

Uniforms are worn "and there are many rules," Apple said. Hair must be a certain length and if it is not, a trim will be done right at school. Girls aren't allowed to wear make-up or jewelry.

Class periods are an hour long and the school day is eight hours long. The school which Apple attends in Thailand is also many times larger. The enrollment is 3,000 in a building for students in grades seven through 12.

Apple is looking forward to attending school in Storm Lake and fitting in with the American teenagers.

Apple's trip is made possible by the ERDT Organization. She applied last fall. After taking a test and going through an interview she learned that she was accepted. She was informed she would be coming to Iowa - a place she had never heard of. "I tried to learn about Iowa on the website but there was not much," she said. She learned of her host family and began contact with them.

Her first thoughts when she landed in Iowa were, "Wow! It's exciting and it's very cold!" Temperatures in Thailand at this time of year are 100 degrees or over. She has never seen snow, she said, and is looking forward to that experience this winter.

Apple's father works for Unocal, an oil and gas company, and her mother is a housewife. She has a brother, 15, and a sister, 10.

She commented about why she wanted to come to America to study. "I like English and my father said English is very important and I should come here." She looks forward to improving her English skills while here. "That will be good for my future." She is also anxious to learn about this country.

Zoli Grof, is staying in the home of John and Pam Henderson, Alta. He is a senior in the Alta High School. Zoli hails from Slovakia.

The high school he has been attending in Slovakia has an enrollment of about 600 students. He enjoyed his first week at the Alta School. "It is good. There are already faces I know," he said.

He plays soccer in Slovakia, and said he has never seen American football. He plans to take part in the cross country team this season.

Zoli's trip is made possible by the American Interculture Exchange organization. His older brother took part in the program a few years ago and landed in Fort Dodge with relatives of the Hendersons. His brother was so impressed with the experience that Zoli decided to take part. "It is important for me to learn better English and to make new friends," he said.

He is amazed at the number of fast food restaurants. "We have no burgers in Slovakia," Zoli said, adding he tasted his first when he got to the United States. "It's not bad. Most people stay at home and cook. There aren't very many fast food restaurants there."

Zoli's father, Steven, is an engineer in Slovakia and his mother, Elizabeth, works at his uncle's company.

Mira Choi, a sophomore at Alta High School, is staying in the home of Glen and Alma Igou, Alta. She comes to the United States from Korea and is part of the Youth for Understanding organization.

Schools in Korea are greatly different. High school classes carry on from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day of the week and on Saturdays for an additional five hours. (And kids here think they are in school too many hours!) She is looking forward to Alta's routine for this year. There are 14 years of school required before they graduate.

The school she has been attending is also much larger with 1,500 students in grades 10-12. Uniforms are also required. "I don't like them," she admitted. No make up and no jewelry are allowed in school.

Students are assigned a "home room" and remain in there all day while the teachers move around.

Mira is looking forward to making friends, learning about the U.S. culture and improving her English. "Frankly speaking, in Korea I was proud of my English. My English is bad here," she said, adding that she finds her English class is "very hard." She has discovered that math is very easy.

She enjoys swimming and playing basketball - but considers them only "hobbies." She has joined the Alta High School chorus.

Mira's dad, Yongho Choi, is an engineer, and her mother, Jeaong Hui Yun, is an elementary teacher. She has a 13-year-old brother.

Vanessa Schulte of West Germany, will be attending Aurelia High School this year as a senior. She is staying in the home of Dawn Jessen, Aurelia.

"I have many friends who have gone abroad for a year and they have told me many good things," she said of her decision to be an exchange students. "I thought it would be great to change cultures. This is totally new and I love to meet new people.

Vanessa attends a private school in Germany with a thousand students in its middle school/high school. School runs for five to six hours, depending on what subjects taking part in.

There are a couple of big differences she noticed immediately between the two schools. "We don't have any sports teams or any cheerleaders," Vanessa said, adding that those interested in sports join "private clubs." It is very expensive, she said, to be associated with the clubs; she belongs to a tennis club. She is very interested in sports and looks forward to being an Aurelia Bulldog. She is a member of the volleyball team and plans to be a part of the girls basketball team this winter and the golf team in the spring.

Another difference is that at her school, mothers take turns "volunteering" their time preparing food in the cafeteria. The food items are purchased separately and the money they take in is donated to a school in Brazil.

She also added that on her school grounds, there is a totally separate building for science classes.

She is impressed with the school and the surroundings. "There is a lot of country and cornfields," she said. "There are many friendly people here."

The city she resides in in Germany is only 13,000; though larger than Aurelia, it is not a large city. She described Attendorn. "We have a nice countryside. There is a big lake there and many hills. There is a famous cave there, a museum and a marketplace. There is an old church there - like 775 years old - and a beautiful castle that has been turned into a hotel."

Vanessa is associated with the Global Insights organization. She said her boyfriend is in Argentina for this school year and her best friend is in Chile. She is thrilled to be in America. Though she has been taking English classes for several years in school, she said she sometimes has to search for the right words when she is talking to her friends, host family and teachers. "This is great experience. I want to meet new friends and I'm having fun getting used to this culture. I talk to my parents and friends and miss them, of course, but I want to enjoy the year."

Vanessa's parents, Alfred, a police officer, and Enge, a materials controller, will visit her in Aurelia in February.

One thing she does not like is the food. "It's terrible!" She said she feels that there are many "unhealthy" foods being eaten here. She is used to eating healthy foods and many vegetables.

She will take part in graduation ceremonies at AHS and go on the senior class trip before she returns home.

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