09/03/07 — Exchange student comes back to GHS

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Exchange student comes back to GHS

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 3, 2007 1:45 PM

Esi Coleman Obeng-Darko returned to tour the halls of Goldsboro High School Tuesday after being gone for 28 years.

The students seemed quieter, said Mrs. Obeng-Darko as she remembered being a teenager traveling from Ghana to live with Hughes and Carlinda Jones and attending GHS under an exchange program for the 1979-80 school year.

Choosing to come wasn't easy, she said. There was apprehension on both sides. Student and host family alike questioned their decision to spend the school year together.

Neither knew what to expect.

"It didn't take a week to realize she was mannerly, respectful," Jones said.

His wife agreed, saying it did not take long for the Joneses to fall in love with their temporary "daughter."

And their daughter, Sonya -- now Sonya Goodlett of High Point -- who is now in her 40s, came back to Goldsboro, too, for a visit with her friend.

She remembers the first time she met her new classmate at the airport.

"She had on an African garment. We took her shopping for jeans. She put some on and stood before the mirror, saying 'Oooooh. I'm a sophisticated American lady now!'"

The entire family grew close to Esi. She called Jones and his wife "Mum and Did."

When the time came for Esi to board the bus with the other exchange students heading home, she screamed.

"Mum. Did. I don't want to go back!"

Tears again filled Mrs. Jones' eyes as she sat on her living room sofa surrounded with albums and loose photos taken in 1980 and 2007.

"Esi was just the third daughter. That's the way I felt about her."

Goldsboro was a life-changing experience, Mrs. Obeng-Darko said.

"Before I came here, I was a little bit shy. I have become more comfortable approaching people, and I have a broader view of life."

The graduation from GHS didn't count toward her diploma back home, although she was inducted into the National Honor Society. She sang in the school touring choir and volunteered as a candy striper at the hospital. She was a member of the mayor's Youth Council, and the late mayor Hal Plonk named her an Honorary American Citizen.

But in Ghana, high school was seven years long. She had completed five years before coming to Goldsboro, and she returned with two more years to go before she could enter college.

"My classmates were one year ahead of me," she said. "But it was worth it."

The families had kept in touch through the years. They all knew it was not a matter of if, but when, she would return.

"Esi vowed when she left that she would come back to see us one day," her American mother said.

And this month, she returned, again not knowing what to expect and again being a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from her host family and the many former classmates and teachers who responded to email messages announcing she was back in town.

She and her host family tried to fit a lot of things in the short three weeks she was here.

The classmates spent a week in High Point reminiscing and visiting attractions like the Biltmore estate in Asheville.

A lot of classmates responding to the emails were nearby in places like Elon, Burlington, Greensboro.

"We found out there were quite a bit of classmates in the area who I hadn't seen in a while. Esi brought them out quite a bit," Sonya Goodlett said.

Several classmates and former teachers are still in Goldsboro, she said. They had their reunion Aug. 26.

On Wednesday morning, the Joneses again took that long ride to an airport to return their loved one to her family.

The 12-hour flight was a straight shot from North Carolina to the west coast of Africa, where Mrs. Obeng-Darko was to be greeted with hugs and kisses from her husband, Nana Obeng-Darko, and their three children.

"We were just thrilled to have Esi come back to us after all those many years," Mrs. Jones said Tuesday after the tour of Goldsboro High. "This visit has brought back many good memories."