Oct. 22--They come from all over the world to live in and learn about life in the United States, but local residents say foreign exchange students teach us just as much about life in their countries.
This year, there are two such students -- one from Spain going to Live Oak High School and one from France going to Yuba City High School -- placed locally by AFS Intercultural Programs.
"It exposed our children, mainly teenagers at the school, to real people from different countries, and they learn about not only the people but their culture and values and their outlook on the world," said Carol McCaulley, a volunteer with AFS.
McCaulley oversees the Silver and Gold Area Team, which covers the area between Chico, Reno and Fairfield, and places several students each year from all over the world in Northern California schools.
"We also have programs that send American students to other countries," said McCaulley. "They can go for the summer, a semester or for a year."
--Isabel Hernandez Aguado, who calls the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain home, is living and going to school in Live Oak for the year and said learning the local slang has been interesting.
"One of the first words I learned at school was 'dope,'" said Aguado. "I told some students that I was from the Canary Islands and they said, 'that's dope.'"
A student of English since she was a young girl, Aguado said she's trying to perfect her English skills while here.
"People who are interested find a way to learn English outside of the classroom like singing songs and watching movies and TV shows with the subtitles," Aguado said.
Even though she walks to and from school with the children in her host family, Aguado was surprised at how often Americans drive their cars.
"I knew people drive cars a lot here, but I didn't know it was that much," she said. "I live on an island and can walk or take a bus wherever I need to go, but it's smaller and here things are spread out more."
She said school life and interactions with teachers are different here.
"People are more respectful of teachers here," said Aguado. "In Spain, the teachers would yell at the students."
A trip to the store surprised her and had Aguado sending photos of what she saw to family and friends.
"We were at Walmart and I took photos of all the food in big huge boxes and with lots of different flavor options," Aguado said. "We have most of the same stuff in Spain but not as many options."
She's already visited Oregon, and trips to Washington, Nevada and Hawaii are planned with her host family.
"People from other countries have a cool view of America and then I came here and everyone here says Spain is so cool," said Aguado. "It has been really great and awesome here. I'm happy, but it's going by so fast."
Raynee and Thomas Devine are hosting Aguado and with three children in the house, Tyler, 15, Jasmine, 13, and Dylan, 9, it gets busy.
"We're such a big family that having another kid in the house is a no-brainier for us," said Raynee Devine.
Devine, who hosted an exchange student last year, said her family gets an interesting perspective on the world thanks to those experiences.
"For everybody, it's nice to know what's going on outside the United States," Devine said.
--Lisa and Wade Kirchner, with their son, Jack, 9, are hosting Charles Bapsolle, who hails from Montpellier, France, and is attending Yuba City High School.
"My first visit abroad was to Belgium, and it was before the world wide web and instantaneous communication, and it was an eye-opening experience for me as a student," Lisa Kirchner said. "I went to a part of the country where I didn't know the language and after six months was able to communicate."
Kirchner said the experience was so powerful for her that hosting students is a way to give back.
"I have life-long relationships that were formed when I was there in high school," Kirchner said. "It's hard to quantify, and it changed everything about me in very positive ways."
After high school, Kirchner went to France through an exchange program while at University of California, Santa Cruz.
Over the years, as she moved up through the education system, eventually earning her doctorate, Kirchner lived in France on other occasions, going to school and teaching at different universities.
"For me, being involved in education is core to my experience, so it's nothing new to host students," said Kirchner.
Kirchner used to work at California State University, Chico, where she coordinated trips that brought scholars from different countries to Chico for short-term visits.
Bapsolle, who has already visited Canada, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, England, Germany, Tunisia, Malaysia and New Zealand, said he likes the current adventure.
"I want to have a lot of fun and graduate," said Bapsolle. "I want to make a lot of new friends. I want to discover the country and travel in California and elsewhere in the States. I want to learn to speak fluent English."
He's noticing some of the differences between America and France.
"In restaurants here, you can buy one drink and they come back and fill your cup," Bapsolle said. "In France, they don't do that, but I wish they did."
--Austin Nielsen of Yuba City took a semester and visited New Zealand through AFS and was glad he did.
"My sister had done an exchange trip in college to India, and that motivated me to do it," said Nielsen.
Nielsen was awed by the beauty of the country and was surprised at how much he had in common with other exchange students.
"The geography was so different there compared to Yuba City," said Nielsen. "There are lots of hills, and it was very green because it rains so much."
He stays in contact with his host family and some of his fellow exchange students.
"It was an education you can't get anywhere else, and it was an experience you can't do anywhere else," said Nielsen. "You can't take the class online; you have to go experience it."
AFS volunteer focuses on finding good fits
Carol McCaulley, a volunteer with AFS, said that up until the '80s, students couldn't choose where they wanted to go through AFS.
Students who want to be part of AFS must have at least a 2.8 GPA for the semester or year program or 2.0 GPA or higher for the summer program.
She said AFS started after World War II, and there has been a chapter in this area as far back as the 1960s.
"My role is to find a good fit for the family and the student," McCaulley said. "If they're sporty, we find a family like that. If they're musically inclined, we try to find that. If they attend church, we try to find a family that goes to church."
CONTACT Chris Kaufman at 749-4794.
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