Exchange students tell it like it isVera Roy-Stoeberl photo Starting at the top are this year’s group of foreign exchange students who are enrolled at the high school: Maiko Takahashi, Bingyan “Stephy” Suen, Pedro Henrique Rodrigues dos Santos, Devon Hadar, Marvin Ten, Daniela “Dani” Pabon, Minju “Minnie” Kang, Malin Bruns and Lorena Wortz.
This year’s enrollment of foreign exchange students at River Falls High School boasts a total of nine young people from diverse areas of the planet Earth.
Countries represented by the energetic and friendly group are: Japan, China, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Venezuela and South Korea. That’s four different continents, whose varied cultures, politics, religions and more have converged and are now shared in the this rural area of western Wisconsin.
All nine students -- Maiko Takahashi, Bingyan “Stephy” Suen, Pedro Henrique Rodrigues dos Santos, Devon Hadar, Marvin Ten, Daniela “Dani” Pabon, Minju Kang, Malin Bruns and Lorena Woertz -- were asked to share their thoughts about two questions. They submitted their observations and show that despite their differing nationalities, there are some commonalities that are obvious among these international students.
The first question was: What are the best things you’ve discovered about life in the United States that you didn’t know about or had not experience before?
Maiko Takahashi of Japan is the guest of the Woodwick family of River Falls.
Her answer: “My surprise birthday party was awesome! It made me happy. My friends came to my house and they celebrated my birthday!”
Stephy Suen of China, who is the guest of Jane and Tim Steinmetz of the town of River Falls, has been intrigued by this country’s “…very different study style,” she said. Sun also noted, “And you have more time to spend with friends. You are more independent.”
Sports, snow and basements have struck a chord with Brazilian Pedro Henrique Rodrigues dos Santos.
“I like how people give a lot of credit to school sports and how big football is,” began Rodrigues dos Santos. “Snow is also one of the best new experiences I have had here.
“One more thing I like about here is how every house has a cool basement, because we don’t have basements in our houses in Brazil.
“The school is also really impressive for being a public school, but being so structured and organized.”
If the name Devon Hadar sounds familiar, it’s because this is Hadar’s second year as an international student. From the African nation of South Africa, Hadar was interviewed as part of a series of international student profiles done by the Journal last school year.
He’s now living with Paul and Sally Haskins of the town of River Falls and wants to spend part of his future here.
His response to the question: “America is second only to Brazil when it comes to national pride. Everything that is said or done is so because of such pride of country.
“Surveys and statistics that are taught in school are applicable only to America. I find this interesting, but odd.”
Marvin Ten of Germany spoke about school spirit and items made available for area students.
“The school spirit is great, and I really enjoy all the equipment that is offered for one’s personal development in school.”
Ten referred to “…weigh rooms, gyms, pool, fields, courts, etc.”
Mark and Jodi Austrum of the town of Kinnickinnic are Daniela “Dani” Pabon’s host parents.
Dani has noted differences in eating habits and school schedules in this area of the United States when comparing them to her native Venezuela.
“People like to eat 24/7,” said Pabon. “And also the school schedule: I was done with school around 7 p.m. in Venezuela. It’s more exhausting here.”
Minju “Minnie” Kang is from South Korea. She is the guest of Meghan and Ryan Tierney of River Falls. Kang listed four points that she didn’t know about or hadn’t experienced until she moved to western Wisconsin.
The first were part-time jobs and driving a car. Young persons in South Korea can’t work part-time nor drive cars until they are 19 years old, said Kang.
Second was school life: “In South Korea, high school is important. So it starts at 7:30 a.m. and finishes at 10 p.m., and we can’t choose subjects, (and we are) divided (into) two groups -- social or science students.”
Kang wasn’t familiar with calculators until she moved here.
“We didn’t use calculators in class,” began Kang. “In US calculators (are) awesome. It can draw graphics, too!”
Kang has learned about American football. It’s not the same as the football in South Korea, which to Americans is soccer.
Malin Bruns and Lorena Wortz are also from Germany. And both are impressed with the friendliness of people they’ve met.
Bruns said: “Everyone is very friendly and the teachers are more like friends and not as strict as in Germany.”
Wortz agreed. “All the people are really helpful and friendly here. The teachers are more like friends and not as strict as in Germany.”
Both girls have been impressed by the high school students’ school spirit, one calling it “awesome;” the other “very intense.”
According to Bruns, one of her classes has been a standout.
“I learned a lot about the American history,” she said.
The international nine were also asked to share their thoughts about a second question: “When you go back to your home country, what will you tell your family and friends about your stay in River Falls?”
Takahashi said, “River Falls has a lot of snow; the high school has a lot of fields,” and she’ll tell them all about the friends she met in River Falls.
Suen replied, “I will tell my family (about) high school life and (the differences) in family life.”
Snow remains at the top of Rodrigues dos Santos’ sharing list.
“I think the snow experience is amazing and, even being harder to explain, will be one of the most exciting things to tell (my family and friends),” said Rodrigues dos Santos.
“The school every day is also something to be told, as well as, of course, my new American friends.”
Hadar has become a big fan of River Falls.
“When my parents eventually retire, (I will tell them) this is the town to live in,” Hadar said. “It is peaceful, convenient and portrays a great image of what us foreigners would consider the American dream. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else.”
Ten sums up his experience in River Falls and the Doolittle family in four words: “It is very cold!”
Evidently his hometown in Germany doesn’t get the frigid temperatures that are common for this time of year in River Falls.
Pabon will talk about the rural aspects of this area of western Wisconsin.
“I will tell them that it was a lot different than the city where I live,” said Pabon. “I’ll tell them that there’s a lot of animals everywhere like cows, horses and deer.”
The welcoming nature of her host family and other people she’s met at the high school is high on the list of memories Kang will share when she returns to South Korea.
“(I will tell them) about my host family. They are treating me as a sibling,” Kang noted. “People like exchange students, so they are good to me.”
Kang will also talk about her first experiences at spectator sports. She attended her first-ever football and hockey games here.
And Kang said that before she came to the United States, she thought all people used guns. She’s glad that wasn’t true. “Here (it) is safe!!” she said with relief.
Bruns also has memories she’ll share after she leaves River Falls and her host family, the Kleinbrooks.
“(I’ll tell people that River Falls)…was a little tiny city with more fast food restaurants than my big town in Germany, but everyone was so nice and I had wonderful experiences, and the high school was awesome.”
Wortz’s response reads as if it could be a journal entry.
“River Falls is a little village where everybody knows each other. But I really liked it here. I found awesome friends and had a super nice host family -- the Barringer-Kinny clan. I learned a lot and I will never forget my time here.”