In May 14 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Reporter
Numerous countries from across the globe were represented by foreign exchange students at Russell County High School this school year and three of those young ladies sat down recently and talked about their experiences this year.
Bia Bandeira, 18, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Cheryl Kao, 16, from Taichung, Taiwan and Ana Julia Llanes, 17, from Ciudad Guayana, Venezuala have called Russell County home for several months.
Bia has been in Kentucky since January 17 while Cheryl and Ana Julia has been here since mid-August of last year.
Bia and Cheryl live with their host family, Kenneth and Deborah Bell of Russell Springs, while Ana Julia lives with her host family, Chris and Christa Coffey, of Russell Springs. The Coffey's also have three children, Ashley, Zachary and Maddie.
Bia and Cheryl are both here as students through DM Discoveries, a non-profit high school foreign exchange student program, while Ana Julia is here through Education First Foundation for Foreign Study, another reputable and popular exchange program.
Both Bia and Cheryl had no option in choosing to end up here but Ana Julia said she recommended Kentucky after having a cousin study in Somerset last year.
"It is really small here," Bia said. Cheryl also said the county was small and "country" compared to where she is from.
"My city is like New York City so here, it is really different," Bia said. In fact, all three girls come from places far larger than tiny Russell County.
Sao Paulo is is the largest city in Brazil and South America, and is among the four largest metropolitan regions of the world with more than 11 million people and is the capital of the State of Sao Paulo, the most populous Brazilian state. Taichung is a city located in west-central Taiwan with a population of just over one million people, making it the third largest city on the island, after Taipei and Kaohsiung.
Ciudad Guayana has approximately one million people and is also the country's fastest-growing city, due to its important iron industry.
Cheryl said where she's from they do not have K-Mart or Wal-Mart, rather they have supermarkets outside. Bia, Cheryl and Ana Julia all mentioned many of the fast food restaurants in Russell County that they do not have back in their home.
"Here, the clothes are inexpensive and the technology too," Ana Julia said. "Yeah, the electronics are so cheap here," Bia said.
Although their purchases are limited by their governments, they have been able to take advantage of some of the items they've seen for sale.
While Ana Julia and and Bia both said they weren't getting homesick, Cheryl admitted being here for 10 months has taken a toll on her, and understandably so for a 16-year-old.
"I miss my family and my friends, and the food," she said. "The food is really different, my dad says fast food cannot be a meal in my country and my mom agrees."
Cheryl said she suspects her 11-year-old sister has grown a great deal since she last seen her late last year. Ana Julia also said she missed her 14-year-old brother and wanted to see home while Bia said she misses her two-year-old sister.
Bia said that when she first got here in January, she wanted to get back home quick. She admitted it took her some time to adjust to the slowed-down lifestyle that people here lead compared to the busy, bustling lifestyle of a city with more than 11 million people.
"Now, I'd like to stay here for more than five months," she said.
Ana Julia said that the high school was big compared to her school in Venezuela, but for the other two not so much. All three girls do wear uniforms to school in their respective countries, something they do not have to do here.
The girls have been able to take less classes here as the schedule here is not as demanding in their own countries. All three said they were not able to select their own classes back home like they could here.
"They decide for us," Cheryl said. "We go to school at 7 a.m. and don't get out until 4 p.m."
Cheryl's favorite class here has been photography, Ana Julia's has been technology class she took last semester and Bia's was floral design.
All three of the girls have a good handle on the English language and had to learn it from a young age in their native countries.
"If you don't speak English, you are nothing," Bia said. "You won't be able to get a job."
The trio has also had to adjust their social lives. Both Bia and Ana Julia are used to hanging out with friends late into the night on weekends, going out to discos and clubs or to the mall, and not returning home until at least 6 a.m. the next morning. For us that is odd, for them it is the norm.
Perhaps their most memorable moment, Bia, Ana Julia and Cheryl all saw snowfall for the first time here in Russell County this past winter.
"I screamed so loud," Cheryl said. "I put on my coat and went out and played in it."
The girls had snowball fights and built snowmen, among other things and said that memories from the snow they saw this winter will last a lifetime.
All the girls have also visited New York City since coming to the United States, Bia and Ana Julia on the recent senior trip and Cheryl, who went with the exchange program. A trip none of the girls will ever forget. Bia and Cheryl also made trips to Tennessee and Florida with Deborah and saw more American sights and sounds along the way.
With their time in America winding down, all three of the girls said they would remain in contact with their friends and host families from Russell County through E-mail or social networking sites.
"From taking complete strangers into your home and making them your kids, you learn different cultures," Bell said. "I've learned to see things differently. As they tell us in the pamphlet, we learn to laugh in another language."
Bia also had to get used to some things.
"We've learned to be patient, to share, and to do housework," Bia said. The girls have maids in the native country homes.
"You get so attached to them and it will be hard to let them go," Bell said. She said she may not house any more students because of how tough it is to see them go back home.
"It's hard, but I might change my mind," Bell said. For the sake of future exchange students, let's hope she does.