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Exchange student makes travel her mission

A year in River Falls is just one of many travels ahead for RFHS exchange student Aranzazu Rodriguez. The senior hails from Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico. She is staying with Troy and Tonja Lesmeister. (River Falls Journal photo by Gretta Stark)

River Falls High school exchange student Aranzazu (Aranza) Rodriguez hopes her year in the U.S. will help her improve her English pronunciation. She is trying to prepare for a career in the tourism industry.

“I want to have the perfect English and American accent,” Rodriguez said. “I’m learning every day.”

She’s also in French II at RFHS and hopes to learn Chinese someday. She said learning more languages will help in a tourism career.

Rodriguez, a Lagos de Moreno Jalisco, Mexico, native, is no stranger to tourism. Her father runs Ecoturismo El Roble, an “extreme park” with lodging.

Rodriguez, a senior at RFHS, wants to study tourism at EVC College of Business and Commerce, not far from her home. She hopes her travels will help her with her major.

After college, she’d like to work for a tourism and entertainment company called “Traveo, Life’s a Journey.”

Rodriguez has been to the United States before though this is her first time in River Falls. She’d like to visit other countries besides the U. S. someday.

Since arriving in River Falls, Rodriguez said she’s learned a lot about American culture. She said RFHS is a lot different from her school in Mexico, Therese de Avila, a private Catholic school.

“In the high school, we just have three rooms,” Rodriguez said. “Because it’s less people and just three rooms, we know each other perfectly.”

Another thing Rodriguez has had to adjust to is the food. She said food is one part of Mexican culture she misses the most. She’s tried American Mexican restaurants, but it’s just not the same.

She does occasionally cook Mexican food for the Lesmeisters, her host family, which includes, Troy, Tonja, Neyo, Kendra, and Anissa.

The Lesmeisters also try to have weekly “Spanish-speaking” dinners. At those meals, the family speaks only Spanish.

“Which is challenging, because we do have a 6-year-old,” said Tonja Lesmeister. “We’re learning how to say, ‘Pass the milk.’”

She said Rodriguez has been teaching the family to make small-talk in Spanish too, which has helped them learn more about Mexican culture.

Rodriguez will get to put in a bit more international travelling this year than the average exchange trip offers. The Lesmeisters are bringing her with on a mission trip to Jamaica over spring break.

Rodriguez and the Lesmeisters will visit Robins Nest and Melody House children’s homes. The trip is through the Lesmesiters’ church, Hope Lutheran of River Falls.

Rodriguez said when she found out the Lesmeisters wanted to take her on a mission trip, it made her whole week.

Earlier that week, she’d also found out she’d been selected by her River Falls host family and got the news she’d passed her college exam and been accepted to EVC College of Business and Commerce. Then she found out her host family wanted to take her with them on their mission trip.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that was my best week ever,’” Rodriguez said. “I am so blessed.”

Rodriguez said her Catholic High School experience has made her feel very close to God. She said she’s looking forward to the trip to Jamaica, because mission trips also make her feel closer to God.

“I love missions and I want to help people,” Rodriguez said. “The whole year, I’m just waiting for the mission.”

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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