The students, from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America will spend anywhere from a semester to a full year with host families from around Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.
They are in America as part of the AFS-USA organization, a cultural exchange program, which brings students from around the world to the United States to study the American language, culture and to see the differences between their home country and the U.S.
Johs Carlsen, of Denmark, came to the United States to see the cultural differences. He has also lived in the United States prior, he said. He currently lives with a host family from Wilson County.
He said it’s “a lot hotter here” than in Demark. As far as comparing American schools to those from Demark, “some parts [in the United States] are easier, but some parts are harder.”
Fernanda Siriani is from Brazil. She said she wanted to come to America to “learn the language.” The culture between America and Brazil also interested her, she said.
“I wanted to see if there was really a difference,” she said. She said the mid-South is “colder than in Brazil.”
She said the way people “treat each other is really different. In Brazil, when we meet someone we hug, and we’re already a big family. Here, when I meet someone, it’s like ‘hey.’ You don’t have a lot of contact, and maybe we never talk to that person again.”
Siriani, who speaks English well, said she has only taken the language one year. However, she said she watches American movies and listens to English-speaking music.
Ryan Yuen, of Hong Kong, said he wanted to see the U.S., because he’s seen movies about events in America. But, he said it’s not like the movies.
“In the movies, it’s all cities,” said Yuen, who calls Kingston Springs home this semester. “Here, I live in rural countryside. It’s still good. I live in Hong Kong, and it’s really like Manhattan, but I really like having something different. I like it here.”
Jiiro Madoz, of Spain, is fond of America for a number of reasons. When asked why he wanted to come to America, he said, “why not? America is the finest country in the world. It’s very fun and very interesting to live here.”
He did say the “food in Spain in healthier [than in the United States’.”
Madoz also said the “schools here are a little bit easier,” noting he is studying a grade lower than what he was studying in Spain. However, “I do think the schools in Spain and in America are similar.”
He said, “soccer in Spain is the best. It’s the most popular sport. But, I really like American sports. Here, there are more sports. There’s baseball, football, hockey, soccer. We also have those sports in Spain, but here, the sports are really good.”
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash spoke to the students about Lebanon and his job. The students were curious about the city and the country. One student said he was different than mayors in her country because in her country, “mayors have bodyguards.”
“I came out here to meet all those students from around the world,” Ash said. “As I told them, this is a global society, and in Wilson County, in Lebanon, we have people come here to our home, and I wanted to meet all of these students today.”
Becky Heywood, who is a volunteer with AFS, which exists across America and around the world, said, “this is our 70th year of student exchange, and our goal is to build a more peaceful world, which is really hard to do.”
She said bringing the students together for the post-arrival orientation, “not only gives them a break from their regular schedule, but a chance to meet each other. Some of these people have never met a student from Mali or never met another person from Senegal, or Hong Kong or even Western Europe.”
Heywood said, “it’s an exciting time for these students to get together and support each other, because they’re all doing the same thing together. They’re living with an American host family and going to an American high school.”
She said the students can live anywhere in the mid-South, “from a small town in Grenada, Mississippi or Mt. Juliet. It’s a great time of supporting each other and learning.”
The local chapter of AFS covers Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. She said AFS also supports American students who want to go abroad.
“They can go for a summer, for a semester, for a year,” she said. “There are lots of financial aid and scholarship opportunities. So many times, I’ve run across people, both young and old, who say I didn’t know I could do that, or I wish I could have done that. Well, you can do that and be exposed to a new culture, have a new family in another place and learn a new language. It’s an invaluable skill in this global marketplace.”
More information may be found at afsusa.org.