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Exchange students adapting to Worthington, American high school

WORTHINGTON -- A month and a half into the school year, foreign exchange students at Worthington High School have become acclimated with the school and are active participants in student activities.

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WORTHINGTON - A month and a half into the school year, foreign exchange students at Worthington High School have become acclimated with the school and are active participants in student activities.

Through the Education First exchange program, Worthington is hosting four foreign exchange students this semester: Yubeen Oh, from South Korea, staying with host family Lisa and Paul Schutte; Claudia Canas, from Spain, staying with Lisa and Paul Schutte; Lina Kim, from South Korea, staying with Yessica and Hector Olague; and Alberto Schettini, from Italy, staying with Julie and Jorge Lopez.

Yubeen Oh Since arriving in January, Oh is not unfamiliar with Worthington or American high school.

The 18-year-old has already endured and overcome a couple challenges - the Minnesotan winter and speaking English on a regular basis.

“I expected Minnesota to have similar weather (as South Korea), but it is not - it is very cold,” Oh said. “A lot of snow was waiting for me.”

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While Oh expected speaking English would be a challenge, it was also one of the main reasons she decided to travel across the Atlantic Ocean for one year.

Students in South Korea begin studying the English language in elementary school, Oh said. However, studying from a textbook and writing is completely different than speaking it regularly, she added.

“When I first got here I couldn’t understand, and I couldn’t say what I want to say, but now I can say what I want to say a little bit,” she said about her improvement.  

The senior has had plenty of practice during the approximately nine months she has been here, as she got involved in track and tennis. She was familiar with track, but aside from having played badminton, tennis was a new experience.

Adapting to the food was also a new experience for Oh, especially at breakfast.

“I always ate rice a lot, and my mom doesn’t like cereal, but that’s what I eat here because that’s a meal,” Oh said.

Her favorite breakfast meal, however, is when host mom Lisa makes pancakes. When the pancakes are finished, Lisa flips it out of the skillet and Oh and Canas must catch them on their plate.

While Oh noted Koreans believe playing with food is rude, she enjoys joining in and getting the full experience.

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“It’s a pretty fun game,” Oh laughed.

Oh said initially she was nervous that an entire year abroad would be too long, but it is a bittersweet feeling knowing there is only two months of her stay remaining.

“Sometimes I don’t believe I’ve been here eight months,” she said. “It’s sometimes happy (that I am leaving soon), because I miss my family, my friends and food - but I don’t want to leave here. Minnesota is awesome, and I really like here. I met a lot of good friends, and I don't want to leave my friends. Korea and America is too far from each other - it is hard to meet again.”

Claudia Canas

Since she was a child, Canas dreamed of coming to the United States to meet new people and discover new places, she said.

Now the 15-year-old from Casavieja, Ávila, Spain has the opportunity, but not without road bumps along the way.

Canas was initially placed in another American high school. Once the school backed out at the last minute, Lisa snatched her up and brought her to Worthington.

Canas has no complaints.  

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“I love here,” Canas said. “I love Worthington. I love United States. I am super happy for this opportunity in my life, because it is awesome and I am super excited for my year, and it only just started.”

Once arriving in August, Canas wasted no time getting involved with student activities and making friends.

The sophomore joined the tennis team, which made her first day of school more comfortable, as she had already established some new friendships and students were curious about the Spanish foreign exchange student, she said.  

“My first day was very interesting and very fun,” Canas said. “I will always remember my first day in American high school.”

One of the initial reasons Canas joined tennis may have been to make friends, but to her surprise, she was also very good at the sport she had never played and earned a spot to play at individual sectionals. Her season concluded after a three-set tiebreaker loss.

Canas loves tennis so much that she asked her coach why they couldn’t play year-round, which is typical with activities in Spain.

“My coach asked if I wanted to play tennis with boots, gloves and snow in the courts,” Canas said, laughing.

While the Minnesota winter will eliminate tennis, Canas is also very excited for the snow. She said she experienced snow when she was little, but does not remember it and has a bucket list for the first snowfall.

“I would like to do a snowman, snow angel and snowball fight,” she said.  

Canas also got involved in the marching band. She was the letter “A” in “TROJANS” in the front line.

Although she was initially hesitant about joining, marching band has become one of her favorite things about her exchange experience.

“It is really, really fun and all the band is kind of a little family,” she said.

She also plans to get involved with the dance team.

Canas said if she has learned one thing so far about her exchange experience, it’s that it goes by quickly and one needs to enjoy every second.

“I thought 10 months was going to be long, but after two months, it has gone very quickly,” she said. “This is one lifetime in a whole year.”

Lina Kim From South Korea’s capital, Seoul, Kim has undergone quite the lifestyle adjustment since arriving in Worthington in mid-August.

Kim said she wanted to participate in a high school exchange program in order to better understand English and land a future dream job.

When she received notification that she had been paired with a host family, she went online to learn about Minnesota.

“I heard that Minnesota is very cold, so it was a little scary, but I like it,” Kim said.

Kim was a little nervous for school to begin, but she experienced something unexpected on her first day.

“I was surprised to see so many Mexican and Asian students,” the junior said.

In an attempt to try a new experience and make some friends prior to the first day of school, Kim joined the tennis team.

She’s excited for drama club, which recently got underway, and she auditioned for the December musical, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“I want to be an actor,” Kim said.

One major difference between the United States and South Korea, Kim said, is that here she is 17 years old and in South Korea she is 18.

“When we are born we are 1 year-old,” she said.

While speaking English has been Kim’s greatest challenge since arriving to the United States, it has also been her favorite experience.

“In elementary school we start English,” Kim said. “We learn writing and reading, but it’s very different than speaking.”

Kim’s exchange year ends in June, but she is making the most out of each day.

“Every day is challenging,” Kim said. “Every day is a new day.”

Alberto Schettini School and life in Worthington has also been a totally new experience for Schettini.

The 17-year-old from Rome, Italy was initially at a tug-of-war with himself about the decision to apply for an exchange program to the United States.

Eventually, he decided he was up for the challenge.

“I wanted to see how I would react to a new family, new friends and in a new place,” he said.

He added that he wanted the benefit of better understanding the global language, which he thinks will better provide him the freedom to travel the world.

In his application, the senior outlined the desire to learn how to surf during his exchange, so receiving notification that he would be living where he called “the middle of nowhere” came as a big surprise.

“I said it would be a challenge - well, it will be even more challenging,” he laughed, recalling his reaction to learning he’d spend his six-month exchange in Minnesota.

Schettini described himself as someone always searching for a solution - and he found a surfing solution not long after his mid-August arrival to Worthington. Schettini got a smaller-scale adaptation when trying windsurfing on Lake Okabena.

A member of student council and the football team, Schettini has already become active in student activities.

Playing a school-sanctioned sport is a unique experience for Schettini, who is accustomed to a definite separation between school and activities.

Schettini, who described never having seen a ball shaped like the football before coming to America, said he got to play cornerback, wide receiver and running back positions on the junior varsity team.

“I’ll never be a football player, but I do it for the experience,” he said.

An aspiring politician, Schettini is also looking forward to the competitive speech season.

“I love talking, so it will suit me,” he said.

He is also considering participating in the musical, although he admitted he is not much of a singer or dancer.

“They don’t let me sing, and I deal with the dancing,” he laughed.

Schettini said there are many noticeable differences between his life in Italy and in Minnesota. Regarding school, there is more of a social division between classes in America, as he said classes tend to be more difficult and have oral tests in Italy.

He’s also amazed by how flat and spread out Worthington is, the amount of available parking and lack of traffic, which he is accustomed to weaving in and out of in Rome on his motor bike.

While he had some reservations about coming to Minnesota, he admitted he was a little intrigued about the state from conversations prior to his arrival with strangers in the airport and New York City.

He was told that while he’d be freezing, the people are nice.

“I wanted to see why everyone said they were so nice,” he said. “I understand that is true.”

A cultural exchange With the EF program, students interested in participating in a high school exchange submit an application and are chosen by American host families based on compatibility.

Once a student is chosen, the student and host family receive support from local international exchange coordinators, which in the immediate area is Lisa Schutte. She works with families in the Hills-Beaver Creek, Edgerton, Ellsworth, Adrian, Fulda, Heron Lake-Okabena and Worthington districts.

“I’d love to have families from those small towns get involved,” Schutte said. “Small schools are the great schools because the students can try so many different things, and in bigger schools it’s too competitive that they’ll never have a chance to get involved.”

Foreign exchange students in rural areas also have the opportunity to meet other exchange students outside of their district, Schutte said.

Schutte plans monthly social activities with another local international exchange coordinator from Slayton.

Her most important responsibility, Schutte said, is to provide support to both the host family and the student throughout the exchange year.  

“(Exchange students) don’t just come here and get dumped with nowhere to turn to,” she said. “I treat them like I would want my own child to be treated. I want the parents to feel comfortable with their student here.”

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