EAGAN, MN — Exchange students are coming to the Twin Cities this fall.
The only ISD 196 school that is still accepting students is the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, but schools in Saint Paul, as well as Burnsville, are accepting students as well, Christine Burbach, who helps place students through the nonprofit organization Greenheart, said.
180 students are still looking to be placed, and could be placed wherever they can find a host family and school, Burbach said.
Burbach, a former exchange student herself, told Patch about her experience.
Originally from Germany, Burbach was an exchange student in Arkansas in 1998. Although she was initially disappointed that Arkansas wasn’t like the “Beverly Hills” she heard about while living in Germany, she said she ended up having good experiences.
“Everyone was so welcoming and it was a good learning experience to make the best out of a situation and not be disappointed right away,” Burbach said.
Burbach returned to the U.S. in 2001, this time coming to Minnesota as an au pair, before meeting her husband in 2003 and later getting married, she said.
Burbach encouraged students to reach out and make friends with the exchange students.
“Sometimes people are afraid to make a friendship because the students are only here for a year, but for the exchange student, it doesn’t have to be just one year,” Burbach said. “Most of my students still come back every couple of years and they’ve had friendships for years.”
For Adrienne Hovland’s family in Saint Paul, this fall will mark their fourth time hosting an exchange student.
Hovland told Patch that her family got involved with hosting exchange students after she heard through a Facebook group for people with Celiac’s Disease about an exchange student who needed to be placed in a home that could accommodate her gluten-free diet.
Hovland and her husband love learning about other cultures, traveling and meeting new people, and had even talked about fostering or adopting once their two kids got older, she said. Learning about the student with Celiac’s was what pushed the family over the edge to get involved in the program, she said.
Hovland recommended getting involved with exchange students to learn about different cultures from around the world.
“When we hosted an Italian student, I said something about the feast of the seven fishes, which I had read was an Italian Christmas tradition and she’d never heard of it,” Hovland said. “We actually looked it up and it was an Italian American tradition that started here less than a hundred years ago. So that was kind of interesting. We both learned something new.”
Exchange students, in Hovland’s experience, tend to appreciate “standard” American things such as attending a Twins game.
“One of the students said, ‘I thought [American School] would be like High School Musical, and it totally is, with football players and cheerleaders and all of that,'” Hovland said. “That’s sort of what they expect on American high school to be like, it basically feels that way to them.I think they’re just very appreciative to be able to have the experience and, and see how families live in the United States. What is sort of average or common to us is usually unique to them.”
Zevar Mamadjonova, of Tajikistan, was an exchange student through the program during the 2017-18 school year.
Mamadjonova told Patch that she grew up in a family of five girls, and that her two older sisters studied abroad in the same program she did, which is what inspired her to want to become an exchange student.
Mamadjonova came to the U.S. at 17, after she graduated in Tajikistan, she said. She told Patch that her favorite memories include evenings listening to her host mother reading while doing arts and crafts and drawing.
Mamadjonova said that getting to know the community made her experience as an exchange student better and helped her learn more about American culture.
Her time as an exchange student also helped Mamadjonova in her studies. She said she is now studying abroad at Central Asia-KIMEP University in Kazakhstan and studying business, and could not have done this without the confidence gained by studying abroad.
“I grew up, I became independent, confident in myself, open for new changes and outgoing, but most importantly I got to see new way of living, culture where human rights, women’s rights are respected and promoted for equality and where there is no obstacle for realization of your goals,” Mamadjonova said. “Because of this experience, I know there is a better point for our developing countries that society can strive to and I, as a Future Leader Exchange Program finalist, will contribute to this development.”
Mamadjonova also said that the connections she made in the U.S. went beyond the time she spent here, and encouraged families to host a student.
“Host a student and make the kids’ dreams come true! This exchange is not just 10 months of one time, but for life,” she said. “I still keep in touch with my family and they even came to visit me in Kazakhstan where I am getting my degree after a year of exchange.”
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