By Amy Jo Parish
Exchange students give up their home and their family for a year in order to gain new experiences in a foreign culture. Those experiences, however, can last a lifetime. This year, the Maple Valley School District welcomed nine exchange students into their halls. Though the students come from all around the globe, all were eager to experience America for themselves. For some, it was an eye-opening experience to come to the very rural setting of Maple Valley.
“I imagined it would be like the High School Musical movies, and it’s a lot more different,” laughs Julia Schnull from Germany. “It’s a lot more country life, but I really like it.”
Maria Sousa of Brazil made the journey without any preconceived notions of American life.
“I thought, it will be what it will be – no expectations,” said Sousa. “It is better than I could have expected.”
Along with a new language, the students have also been experiencing new cuisine. For the German students, they are used to sweet popcorn and the salty varieties have taken a bit of adjustment. Overall, the students said they have been enjoying the food.
“I’m gaining weight every week,” said Sousa. a
A few students have found a new favorite food.
“Deep-fried pickles, they are so good,” said Sofia Kärki of Finland. “I would eat so many of them.”
The course work has been easier for all of the students, making it easier to adjust to new schedules and time zones.
“School here is so much easier, but it’s so different,” said Matilde Lenzi of Italy. “We don’t change classroom; teachers change, and we go on Saturday.”
Through all the differences and adjustments, Maple Valley High School Principal Michael Knapp said welcoming exchange students into the district creates a positive impact for not only the students but the community as well.
“It allows our students that don’t leave the area to get to experience other cultures,” said Knapp. “They get involved with extracurricular activities and in our school community, and our students just really embrace them.”
Maple Valley typically welcomes anywhere from 10 to 15 exchange students each year, some stay for a semester, others an entire year. The district works with CET USA, Share and other exchange programs to bring the students into the community. The organizations works with local families to match students’ interests with the families and ensure a positive experience for all those involved. Knapp said Maple Valley will continue to work with exchange student companies well into the future and is certain the host families and students are changed for the better because of the programs.
“In many cases, students and host families will visit each other down the road,” said Knapp. “It just spurs on what can be a lifelong friendship.”
The commitment of leaving family and friends for a year can be daunting, explained Knapp, but the experiences and memories make for an unforgettable 12 months.
“It’s a huge step for that student to commit to leaving their homes for a year,” he said.
The students could not agree more and would encourage other students who might be interested in becoming an exchange student to take the chance.
“It’s hard sometimes, but it’s worth it,” said Schnull.
Photo by Amy Jo Parish
This year’s Maple Valley High School exchange students include (front, from left) Veerin Yimsmerjit, Thailand; Matilde Lenzi, Italy; Leo Roskouetz, Germany; Luisa Pidun, Germany; Julia Schnull, Germany; Maria Sousa, Brazil; (back, from left), Vilma Viitanen, Finland; Sofia Kärki, Finland; and (missing from photo) Sally Park, South Korea.