By Crystal Thompson
Foreign exchange students from Australia, Spain, Germany and Hungary are attending KG High School in Gildford this year.
Rebecca Moore, Enrique Errando, Natalie Raettig and Erika Hassza'n are adjusting to Montana life quite well they say, and are enjoying the small town living that our area has to offer. As part of the American Intercultural Student Exchange program, the four are experiencing the difference in rules, culture and personalities between American rural schools and the schools in the country they call home.
Moore, who is a native of Australia, has been in the United States since January of this year. After completing a semester at Big Sandy High School last school year, Moore will conclude her year in the United States as a Junior at KG for one semester.
Raettig, Hassza'n and Errando will be completing a full year of school at KG. Raettig, who hails from Germany, will be completing her junior year, while Hassza'n and Errando are seniors. Though not completely fluent in English, Errando says that making friends has not been all that difficult, and he enjoys meeting new people. Errando also enjoys conversations in his native language with Mrs. Hjortsberg, the KG Spanish and Art teacher.
Hassza'n, who is a native of Hungary, said that everyone she's met in Montana has been really nice and although making friends wasn't too tough, learning the English language was a task, which sometimes made it difficult to join in on conversations between friends and classmates. Communication skills aside, however, the students say that they are doing very well in school both socially and educationally, and are learning a lot.
Moore, Raettig and Hassza'n cited Publications as their favorite class in school. Errando said that he prefers Art. Creations from the high school art class are displayed in the halls, and it's easy to see from Errando's work that his passion for the class pays off. The students appear to be very diligent in their studies, which is reflected in their above average grades. They don't spend all their time on schoolwork, however, spending time with their host families and their friends is another large part of their exchange experience, they said.
Upon returning to their home countries, all the students said that they would definitely miss the friends they made during their time in Montana. With less than three months to her return to Australia, Moore said that she is reluctant to go home. Although she misses the ocean, as well as her family and friends, Moore said that she's not anxious to return to the big city, as she prefers the smalltown living that our community provides. "I've fallen in love with this place," she said. Hassza'n and Errando all agreed that right now they miss their family most of all, but admit that they will be sad nonetheless when it comes time to return home. Raettig said that besides her family, she misses seeing her pets. The students also agreed that although there's a definite longing for home, there's also a lot of excitement in the exchange experience itself.
Moore said that when she arrived early this year, Montana wasn't at all what she expected. A friend of her's who lives in Wisconsin gave her the impression that Montana was made up of horse-riding cowboys and headdress-wearing Indians. She said she was surprised (and a little relieved) to see that the pictures she had created in her mind were not accurate.
Moore also said that the Montana weather was a big shock. She arrived in January to below zero temperatures, when her hometown was still pushing the hundred degree mark. The other students agreed that Montana weather is a bit more quirky than their used to, and they aren't sure what to expect from the upcoming winter season.
Penny Velk, area representative for the American Intercultural Student Exchange, as well as active host parent, said that the students seem to be adjusting to their new surroundings quite well. "They're really great kids," Penny said. Penny and her husband Mike have been host parents to several exchange students. The Velk's are currently hosting Rebecca and Erika, they also housed Enrique for a few weeks. Enrique is being hosted by the Rangen family of Havre, and Natalie is staying with the David Rydell family.
Jim Palmer, KG superintendent said that he is pleased with the exchange students. Palmer, who has taught students throughout the world, said that he has rarely seen an exchange student who misbehaves, and that this group is no exception. He said that all four of the students are excellent academically and socially.
Palmer also said that he felt it was important in a small school like KG to bring in students from other countries with different cultural backgrounds and points of view. He explained that bringing in exchange students benefits the entire school, because the students are able to learn so much about each other. He said that he feels it's good for the students to be able to compare how different, and sometimes, how alike they are from the foreign students. "It gives our kids a chance to broaden their horizons," he said.
The exchange students went through a rigorous process in order to come to America through the AISE program. AISE is open to students ages 15-18, who must be nominated by a teacher or principal. After completing a screening process, the students, along with their parents must meet with an AISE representative for an interview.
The students were required to show evidence of academic interest and achievement as well as strong curiosity and adaptability. The students and their parents were required to attend orientation meetings prior to the student's departure.
The major goal of the exchange program is to teach the students about the American way of life. All students enrolled in he AISE program attend one full year of high school in America. Before departing to America, they are required to have a good command of the English language, as well as satisfactorily complete their personal interview.
AISE students from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portuagal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and the UK can come to America to learn about the American culture. American exchange students can travel to one of seven European countries, as well as Australia as part of the exchange program.
Anyone interested in learning more about the American Intercultural Student Exchange, or to find out how to become a host family, call 1-800-SIBLING or visit www.aise.com, these students agree that it's a great experience for everyone involved.