Foreign exchange students come to Swanville to experience America and further their education

Shuowen Shen, left, and Wachira Uthahang are both seniors at Swanville Public school and will graduate this year. Both students plan to continue their education after high school.

By Sarah Lideen, Staff Writer, sarah.lideen@ecm-inc.com

For more than 20 years, the Swanville Public schools have been hosting foreign exchange students from around the world.

“They advise you at schools in China to be an exchange student,” said senior Shuowen Shen from Shanghai, China. “I came here for American culture and to learn the language.”

The school’s other exchange student this year is also a senior, Wachira Uthahang from Phayao, Thailand.

Although Uthahang is still learning English, he said that there is not much difference between Swanville and his hometown, except for the schools.

“Everyone has to cut their hair every week and wear a uniform,” said Uthahang.

“It is totally different here than in China,” said Shen, who is active in many scientific programs in his school back home. “There are more breaks during the day.”

Both students are actively taking courses such as english, history and science courses.

Shen explained that the process to come to America took him three to four months. Although scared at first of people not being able to understand him, he had support.

“My parents supported me. They were very excited,” said Shen.

Arriving in September of 2011, both students are staying with the same host family, Jerry and Eva Ruter.

“They’ve really helped out the program,” said Administrative Secretary, Carol Dold.

Dold also explained that every year the search becomes harder to find host families, as room and board and food costs are left to the family.

Before the current exchange program was put in place in Swanville, students were brought over and paid tuition, but now they are treated as a regular student and can go to school for free, Dold said.

On average, five to six students come to Swanville every year, while in the past they have hosted as many as 10, with the average trip lasting half a year.

“I think it’s good for our kids to be exposed to foreign cultures,” said Dold.

Dold said that the exchange students fit in very well at the school and typically join as many clubs and extra curriculars as possible.

“They try to get as much out of us as they can as far as socializing,” said Dold.

Shen described the scenery and the people in America the best part about his visit so far, although he does miss Chinese food.

“I am getting used to American food more,” said Shen.

Shen also found that fitting in was quite easy, and the only difficult part of his trip so far is his history class.

“The hardest part is all the memorization in history,” said Shen.

For the holidays this year, the two students stayed home with the Ruters and shared with them their cultures.

“In Thailand we do those things every year. It’s not very different,” said Uthathang.

When Shen is not studying, he enjoys classical music and physics. Uthahang is very active in band and plays the saxophone.

Shen has plans to apply at American universities after graduation, while Uthahang plans to continue his studies in Thailand and work there.

The boys will also be attending International Student Day at Holdingford High School at the end of the month, where they will share their culture with others and meet exchange students from around the area.

The school is expecting a third foreign exchange student at the end of the month who will stay until the end of fall.

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