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Exchange student gets taste of American tradition

Renan Santanna, is shown with members of his host family. From left are Ellen Patrick, Tina Patrick and Santanna. Other members of the Patrick family (not shown) include Tina’s husband Tom Patrick, and Ellen’s older siblings Dan and Lucie Patrick, both college students. (Submitted photo)

High School sophomore Renan Santanna, 15, is looking forward to eating his first Thanksgiving meal Thursday.

Santanna, who comes from Recife, Pernambuco, in Brazil will experience his first Thanksgiving with his host family, Thomas and Christine Patrick.

“Thanksgiving is really nice. We don’t have this in Brazil,” Santanna said. “I don’t know the history of Thanksgiving. I only know the party that people do on the day of Thanksgiving.”

But Santanna said he’s eager to learn about the Thanksgiving history and to eat some turkey.

Santanna is learning some American history right now. He’s taking American Studies II and enjoying learning about The Roaring Twenties.

Santanna began learning English when he was eight, but he still had a hard time adjusting to using the language constantly when he arrived in River Falls.

“I wasn’t adapted to speaking English all the time,” Santanna said. “I had English class in Brazil, but I only had class like twice a week, for one hour.”

After his first month in River Falls, Santanna said he got used to speaking English. Now, he said, there aren’t too many words he doesn’t understand. 

Many classmates also ask him to teach them Portuguese.

“Every person asks a different word for me to say,” Santanna said. 

Santanna said one of his favorite Portuguese words is “fameli” — family.

It’s not just the word he’s fond of. Santanna said he’s very close to his family back home: His parents Remy and Rosana, sister Rayssa and brother Ryan. He said he tries to Skype with them, usually on Sundays.

“It’s hard to keep in touch,” Santanna said. He said he and his family talk less often than they did when he first arrived in River Falls. “Because they want me to stay here, thank about here, not so much about Brazil.”

Santanna will see his family again when he returns home to Brazil at the end of January — just in time to start his junior year.

Santanna said the Brazilian school year runs from February to December. So when he got to River Falls on Sept. 3, he was already halfway through his sophomore year.

Meanwhile, Santanna is focusing on enjoying his time in River Falls. He’s also getting along great with his American host family, Tina and Tom Patrick.

“They’re really supporting of me. They’re all really nice,” Santanna said. “Very good people.”

The Patricks are Santanna’s second host family. He moved in with the Patricks in mid-October because he wasn’t getting along with his previous host family.

Santanna was friends with the Patrick’s daughter Ellen, a junior, before they became his host family. 

Santanna said his goal while he is in River Falls is “to get the ‘American Experience,’ to get to know the culture, to get to know how Americans live, like the difference between Brazil and here.”

Patrick said one piece of "the American experience" her family has shared with Santanna was his first real experience with snow last week.

“And he hasn’t seen anything yet,” she added. “He was surprised at how slippery it was. And how cold it was.”

Patrick said Santanna enjoyed the beauty of the snow, but is still getting used to walking on snow.

Another thing Patrick said she’s looking forward to sharing with Santanna is “Thankmas” (Thanksgiving and Christmas combined) with him and her family.

After Santanna returns to Brazil, he said he hopes to stay in touch with his friends, and his host family in River Falls. He said he’d like to stop back for a visit someday.

For the full story, please see the Nov. 28 print edition of the River Falls Journal.

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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