Exchange students weigh in on food, language, school


News intern

You may have noticed some new faces around Hood River this year. They belong to several exchange students who have come to experience American life and to share their own culture with others.

This school year there were a total of six exchange students in the valley, though two stayed only one semester. The four remaining students hail from Germany, Japan, Mexico and Argentina.

“This particular group, despite their different backgrounds, is very caring (toward one another),” says Barb Hosford, a teacher at Hood River Valley High School. Hosford and her husband, Mitch, help coordinate activities for the students. “We have potlucks where we cook food from these students’ cultures. We also make cookies and watch movies,” she says.

Weekly meetings are held to help the exchange students get to know one another and to provide a time for the students to learn more about American traditions.

The biggest differences and adjustments? School, language and food.

There’s a smile on Sayuri Yomoguita’s face as she explains the differences between her home in Mexico and Hood River.

“I like the food in Mexico better,” she says. “The food is so processed here. There is no snow in Mexico either! It is also harder to make friends here because I am learning the language.”

Sayuri came to Hood River through the Rotary Club Exchange Program, and has done several activities with other Rotary exchange students — including a trip to Disneyland.

Sayuri speaks in strongly accented English. “I took English throughout school but I always thought, ‘When am going to use this?’ Now I am using it.” She has been involved in soccer and swimming at the high school and has several friends with whom she shops, has dinner and goes to movies.

For the first semester Sayuri stayed with John and Marianne Durkan. This semester her hosts are Ronald and Linne Dodge.

“My host families are so friendly and nice. I love them!” she says. “They are one of the best things about my stay.” With her host family she has visited New York and attended a Blazers game in Portland.

After Sayuri returns to Mexico, she plans to spend time with family before leaving for college to study international business.

“This has been a good experience,” she says. “It’s hard sometimes but good for the future. It changes how you think about things, and going through it, you grow up and become more independent.”

Carina Koppers, 16, from Cologne, Germany, has a unique perspective on her exchange opportunity.

“Coming to America is like starting a new life,” she says. “Nobody has known you your whole life. It’s like being born again but at an older age.” At her mother’s suggestion, Carina took a break from school and came to America through the Quest Exchange Program.

“My mom wanted to send me to a British boarding school but a lot of my friends were doing the same thing. I wanted to go someplace where I could be completely independent,” she says.

Cologne, in western Germany, has a culture that is at a different pace than Hood River. In the school system, students tend to work independently while the teacher serves as more of a supervisor.

“The classes are harder (in Germany) and we have less choice about what classes we take. Here a student can choose to take easy classes every year, but in Germany everyone takes the same required class.” Carina is the equivalent of a senior at HRVHS though she will finish high school when she returns to Germany.

Teenage life is different in Germany, too. For example, the drinking age is 16 which allows teens to attend clubs.

“Drinking is not such a big deal in Germany because it is not illegal,” Carina says.

The fast food culture of America is not as common in Germany. “At home we eat more meals, like lots of Italian food and lots of potatoes,” she says. “My mom always wants my family to eat meals together. It doesn’t matter if I am busy or tired.”

Staying with host families has been a positive experience for Carina. “I love it and I have gotten along really well with both families.” Carina stayed with Douglas and Jeanne Hart in Parkdale during first semester and now lives with Katrina Rickenbach.

“With my host family I have traveled around Oregon and seen how close some families in America operate,” she says.

After Carina returns to Cologne, she will finish up the two years she has left in high school and then plans to go to college.

“I am thinking about training to be a pilot or studying business management,” she says.

Erika Suzuki, 17, came to Hood River through the Tsuruta (Japan) Sister City Exchange program. She has observed that the culture here is quite different from home. The school system has been her biggest adjustment.

“At school we wear uniforms and we do not change classrooms, the teachers move around,” Erika says. “American schools have more freedom. In Japan, it is strict. You cannot color your hair or have piercings.” Most students take a train or bus to school because you have to be 18 years old to get a driver’s license.

Learning to speak English has been another challenge for Erika, who studied English for five years but didn’t really practice speaking it.

“For the first few months, I couldn’t understand what people were saying if they spoke too fast. But it is easier now,” she says.

The host family experience has been positive for Erika as well. For the first semester she stayed with Mike and Cathy Oates, with whom she vacationed at the coast and celebrated Christmas. This semester she’s staying with Tina Dietz.

“This (trip) has been a good experience,” she says. But the food here is more high calorie. When I get home I am going to eat some Japanese food!“

Pablo Beato, 18, is from San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. He is not involved in an exchange program, but came to visit relatives for three months and is attending classes at HRVHS.

He has found many activities to keep him busy.

“My uncle and I do mountain and road biking. I also went skiing in Idaho. In a few weeks, I will be going to San Diego, Calif., with my aunt and uncle.”

He has found the schools in Hood River to have more extracuriccular activities than in Bariloche.

“There are no art, music, or P.E. programs at my school,” Pablo says. “In the morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. we are in a classroom. The teachers change classes. Then in the afternoon, we have gym in a different building. I like how the students get to change classes (here) because you get to know more people.”

Having spent five years learning English, Pablo has been able to communicate well. He was surprised to find such a large Spanish-speaking community in the Northwest.

San Carlos de Bariloche is about the size of Portland, but with a larger population. The setting, however, is similar to Hood River because of the hills, water and the view. “Except in Bariloche we have a lake instead of a river,” Pablo says.

When he returns to Argentina, Pablo plans to attend a university in Buenos Aires.

“I am glad I came to Hood River because in Argentina we always think of the United States as all big cities and no small towns,” he says. Pablo has found the small community to be very friendly.

“People at school will wave and say, ‘Hi Pablo!’”

Sayuri, Carina, and Erika will graduate with the HRVHS class of 2002 before returning home.

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