Students share experiences from school year in Wayne
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 9, 2011 1:46 PM
Tsolmonpayar Erdenetsgot, left, from Mongolia, and Chanyanuch Intachat from Thailand have been attending school at Charles B. Aycock High School this past semester as foreign exchange students.
Animbyo "Ambi" Putra from Indonesia, a foreign exchange student this year who attended Rosewood High School, holds up a mask he created in art class.
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Foreign exchange student Kanokwan "Song" Srisuwat will return to Thailand after a school year at Southern Wayne High School.
Most students in Wayne County Public Schools are spending the last week of school finishing up assignments, taking exams and cleaning out their lockers.
But for four foreign exchange students who have spent the past year at area high schools, they are also saying good-byes and preparing to return to their homelands.
Animbyo "Ambi" Putra from Indonesia said he signed up with CIEE foreign exchange program for a "new experience."
He had never traveled outside of his country before, never flown on an airplane.
He said he knew there would be differences to experience -- schools, culture, even food.
"The main food in my country is rice," he said. "We eat rice a lot. But here, we eat pasta, burgers and potatoes. Maybe the first time I kind of miss rice."
The language barrier was also noticeable at the outset, he said.
"When my friends in the classroom do like this, where they put their feet on a chair, it was like, 'You really can do that?'" he said, gesturing with one foot propped up as he sat at a desk. "In my country, that's disrespectful to a teacher. We really respect the teacher and do everything more respectful to older people. I was like, 'OK, so we can do that. Cool!'"
During his year at Rosewood High School, the senior had the opportunity to serve as a Governor's Page and learn more about American government. He also discovered artistic talents he hadn't pursued before. He won a schoolwide contest designing a T-shirt and has completed other projects to showcase his ability. Some of his designs -- charcoal drawings, colorful artwork and even pottery -- were on display throughout the school.
Admittedly homesick initially, he was able to keep in touch with family via email and the occasional phone call. On a sad note, he was also away when his grandmother died a few months ago. He knew, though, that she was very proud of him and supported his being a foreign exchange student.
"My grandma really wanted me to be an ambassador or do something for the government," he said. "Actually, I want to be a teacher. I love to design, but not fashion design, more interior design. I love drawing, colors."
His plans to go to college were delayed slightly. Being away, he missed his own senior year.
"If I'm not doing this program, I will graduate with them," he said. "But it's fine. I get along with my juniors (who will be his senior classmates next year).
"I'm really glad I did this. I tried to escape from what was I used to, chill out after school and home. The experience has made me really different."
Kanokwan "Song" Srisuwat spent the year at Southern Wayne as a junior. The 16-year-old from Thailand had previously attended an English program and is learning Japanese.
Like Ambi, she was a Governor's Page with other CIEE students in Raleigh.
"That's really good opportunity in my life," she said. "We went to museums in the capital and we talked with governors. It helped learn about laws."
One thing she did while in the U.S. was become immersed in the local culture -- becoming involved in the school's SGA and drama club, as well as her host family's church and youth group and community service. She was also excited to be part of Girl Scouts.
"Girl Scouts is required in Thailand. My mom was a Girl Scout," she said.
She also got to experience a typical American ritual -- shopping for a prom dress.
"We don't have prom or homecoming things," she said. "This was my first prom. I got the dress, I'm not used to, because we don't really wear that kind of dress."
She acclimated fairly easily, she said, noting her favorite Southern expressions of "y'all" and "bless your heart" as well as an appreciation for some of the local delicacies.
"I don't eat beef at all, but I do eat milk and cheese, and now I love fried chicken, chicken salad, potato salad and sweet tea," she said with a smile.
She returns home later this month, just in time to start back to school there July 1. She can't wait to share her experience in the U.S., she said.
"I'm going to tell them about school first, because everybody is interested in school," she said, admitting her initial expectations of America were based on media portrayals. "We thought it was going to be like in a movie, but it's not. It's not bad.
"Students are not like in a movie -- do activities and not learn. They try to help you and are really smart. I love the way they think and they do here, different things, how they organize things."
One way she will preserve memories of her time here is through photos taken throughout her stay.
"I took tons of pictures of every single thing, from the leaves to food that's not in Thailand, and I have got journals, I have diaries, I wrote every day," she said. "I love to go back and read it. You read it and all the pictures, you remember how you feel."
Charles B. Aycock High School had two foreign exchange students this year.
Chanyanuch Intachat from Thailand, 18, was with CIEE and Tsolmonpayar Erdenetsgot from Mongolia, 17, participated through the NWSE agency.
Chanyanuch had actually visited North Carolina before, as her mother studied briefly at UNC-Chapel Hill, she said. Otherwise, her only knowledge of the U.S. came from TV and movies.
"I love American movies, they always have subtitles," she said. "But here there's no subtitles."
The language barrier was a slight challenge at first, she said.
"In Thailand, English is like a second language so we have to study when we were young. But we don't speak a lot," she said. "My friends have been very nice when I wouldn't understand. They always tried to explain and use easy words."
Tsolmonpayar had a harder time of it.
"I was in culture shock, the first month was really tough," she said.
It was difficult adjusting to the food. She was homesick, and making friends did not happen right away.
"Like the first two months I had a hard time understanding English, so it was really hard to communicate with them," she said. "Now I'm sad because I'm leaving."
The junior says she grew to like American food and appreciated the opportunity to visit such places as Myrtle Beach and the experiences she had.
"I really enjoyed the aircraft show (air show on base). Last year, I went to the state fair, it was fun," she said. "I had my first Christmas, my first Halloween, first Thanksgiving, made my first turkey.
"I loved my school, I learned a lot of things here."
In addition to Mongolian and English, she also speaks Russian and Turkish. When she finishes high school, she hopes to return to the U.S.
"This summer, I'm planning to take an English exam -- a test of English as a foreign language -- so I can get a scholarship here," she said. "Next year, 2012, I will try to come back."
The school has historically had lots of foreign exchange students, said Aycock counselor Yvonne Mills.
"Every year, we have anywhere from two or three to five," she said. "They're neat. They come from other countries. Most of the time they give a presentation to another class, a history class, and tell them about their country. All these kids get all these experiences from them."
Cathy White, counselor at Southern Wayne, who has served as a host to two foreign students previously, said the program has proven to be as meaningful for the local students as the visitors.
"The benefits for our school and community, first of all, they learned about countries that they wouldn't ordinarily learn about," she said. "I think socially the kids tend to learn really well with foreign students because they are curious about the lifestyles, curious about education."