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Exchanging


Oklahoma families open homes to host foreign exchange students


By Cindy Downes


the smell of fi sh bait, fi lled the air as the Jones family, members of East Central Oklahoma Elec- trical Cooperative, joked about Floriana catch- ing her fi rst fi sh.


E


“Just as she was about to throw the fi sh back, I told her to kiss the fi sh for good luck,” Jo Jones said. “She was fi xing to do it, until it translated in her mind what kiss the fi sh meant.” Floriana is an exchange student from Sardinia, a large island 190 miles off the western coast of Italy. She spent the last school year learning about Amer- ican culture by living with her a family, Bart and Jo Jones of Kellyville, Okla., and attending Kellyville High School. Thanks to this experience, Floriana has added fi shing to her list of favorite things to do, though she still refuses to kiss the fi sh.


Cultural Shocks


Every school year since 1995, Oklahoma fami- lies like the Joneses have opened their homes to exchange students from all over the world through the Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETU- SA).


“We try to match students with families that


have similar interests,” CETUSA Exchange Student Coordinator Brenda Medlock said.


“I didn’t want to live in a big city,” Floriana said, “because I come from a little town.” For her, Kellyville was the perfect match. Maria, a 17-year-old from Valladolid, Spain, wrote on her application that she wanted a little brother and sister. For that reason, CETUSA Co- ordinator Tiffanie Groom chose Maria to live with her, her husband Wayne and their two children, Nathan, 5, and Peyton, 7, in Sperry, Okla. Maria attended Sperry High School while in the States. Andrea, a 19-year-old from Podgorica, Monte-


negro, had just one wish before coming to Okla- homa. She wanted “one grandma, one dog, and one sister.” That’s exactly what she got when Kather-


14 OKLAHOMA LIVING


ighteen-year-old Floriana cast her fishing line into the brown, muddy water and sat down to wait for a fi sh to bite. Laughter, and


ine Magrini, owner of a Pomeranian dog named Rocky, agreed to host Andrea, as well as Ning, an 18-year-old girl from Baogi, China. Andrea and Ning both attended Thomas Edison High School in Tulsa.


All four of these students were fl uent in English when they arrived and had very little difficulty adjusting to their new, English-speaking teachers and friends. Although all four maintained excel- lent grades in school, Floriana did confess to using Google Translate on an occasional basis. It took about six weeks of immersion to totally adjust, Jo Jones said, but Floriana still did excellent in school. For example, she took American History for the fi rst time ever and scored Advanced on the End- of-Instruction test.


Exchange students enjoy a wide variety of cultur- al experiences while living with their host families. Besides fi shing, Floriana was also introduced to the rodeo and football.


“We don’t have anything like rodeo in Italy,” Flo- riana said. “At the beginning, I didn’t like going to the rodeo, but now I’m going to miss it.” When Floriana learned that football was impor- tant to American families and that she probably would be expected to go to every game, she was ap- prehensive. Floriana didn’t like football. However, after learning how the game worked and seeing her new American friends play, she began cheering them on.


“I cried every game we lost,” Floriana said, “and I cried every game we won. I will remember that forever.”


For city dweller Maria, living in the country was an amusing cultural experience, especially wing- clipping day. Wayne Groom, a member of Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative, keeps several chickens to supply the family with fresh eggs. Several times a year, he clips the wings of the chickens to keep them from fl ying out of the pen. One day, Maria decided she would help. As hens dashed here and there, squawking and clucking with feathers fl ying, Maria fi rmly held a chicken in her arms, pulled its wings out and trimmed the feathers. “That was really funny. Imagine the whole family running around yelling, ‘Here chicken, chicken!’”


Ma-


ria said. Maria said. In addition to learn- ing about country life, Maria also discovered that church could be fun.


“In Spain,” she said, “The priests


are usually really old men, like the Pope. It’s two hours of boredom.”


But at Riveted Church, where Maria attended with her host family, she discovered something different.


“The pastor is young and makes jokes,” she said. “I think if churches were like this in Spain, more young people would go.”


Expanding Borders All of the students were able to do some travel-


ing while living with their host families. Floriana visited the Oklahoma State Capitol and the Okla- homa City National Memorial & Museum. Maria traveled to New Mexico and visited Area


51.


“Those people are crazy,” she said. “Aliens are everywhere. You don’t see that in Spain.” During Spring Break, Magrini, who is a docent at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, fl ew her two students to New Orleans, and then on spur of the moment, rented a car and drove them to the western mountains in North Carolina. En route, she gave them history lessons.


“We learned so much from her (Magrini),” An- drea said. “She knows everything. Not just about the United States. She knows the history of the world.” Living in urban Tulsa, Andrea and Ning not only learned about local history, but also about Tulsa’s social life. Magrini took the girls to formal dinners, the symphony and the Tulsa Performing


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