Going to high school in America is fun. So says the group of exchange students at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School this year.

Back home in Taipei, Po-Chun Huang, 17, who goes by Mike here in America, wouldn’t be on the school basketball or volleyball teams, like he was at Borgia.

“If you want to play, you have to play from the time you are young,” Huang told The Missourian. “It’s a special experience to play sports here.”

Olga Kutsyn, 16, said the same thing of her role in the spring play, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” It wouldn’t have happened in her native Uzhgorod, Ukraine.

“At home, there is more the basics,” Kutsyn commented. “There is not the variety of electives.”

So during her year at Borgia, Kutsyn took advantage of the opportunities and enrolled in classes like child development and speech, in addition to drama.

Paloma Sarmiento, 15, who is here from Puerto Varas, Chili, agreed.

“We don’t have a food class (at home),” she remarked. “We don’t have bowling (part of a Borgia P.E. class) . . . that was fun.”

Svetlana Kuznetsova, 17, of St. Petersburg, Russia, also enjoyed the bowling, as well as painting.

Borgia’s other two exchange students this year, Clara Wicke of Berlin, Germany, and Cary Lee, 15, of Taipei, Taiwan, said they feel the same way.

While they all came to America mostly to improve their English and experience the culture, the students said it has been educational in ways they never expected.

The pace of life is different in America from their cultures — faster for some, slower for others.

For Kutsyn, the pace is faster here, but for Huang, it’s much slower, and he’s enjoying it.

In Taipei, he said, after eight hours of school, he goes to “cram school” for extended study (three-plus hours) in English, physics and math.

“It could be subjects you’re having a hard time with,” he said, “or it could be ones you just want to learn more.”

That leaves little time for family, Huang said, and, he admits, “it can be really stressful.

“We will have three tests in one semester that are equal to finals here,” he commented.

The relationships between students and teachers is different in America, too. Here they are more like friends, said Huang.

“At home, students are more shy to ask questions,” he remarked, admitting he doesn’t talk much in class in Taipei.

Kutsyn said the pace in Uzhgorod is slower than here in Washington, and that is one thing that she misses.

“Here, even having babies is faster,” she said. “Mothers are only three months at home (before going back to work). In my country, it is three years.”

Using an iPad in school or even as part of their schoolwork was new for all of the exchange students. They adjusted easily to it, though, they said, and even enjoyed it.

“The only challenge is to stay concentrated,” said Wicke. “It’s easy to get off task.”

Travel, Other Experiences

The exchange students have had opportunities to travel to other parts of the country during their stay here. Some are with other exchange students; some are with their host families.

Kutsyn was able to take a trip to Hawaii, and Huang to New York City.

Last month, Huang’s host parent, Rosalie McGaugh, took him to Oklahoma City to see the Oklahoma Thunder play the New York Nicks. They also had a trip to Chicago planned with Kutsyn and her host family, Brandi and Ken Foss, who live next door to McGaugh, for later this month.

Kutsyn said, in additon to Los Angeles, where she arrived and attended orientation, she has been to Branson, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Huang said he went to Woodstock, Ga., for Christmas to visit his host parent’s family, Columbia to see a Mizzou basketball game, and Alton, Ill., to do some eagle watching.

The students said that before they arrived here, their expectations of what America would be like was based on what they had seen portrayed in American movies and TV shows.

“I remember on the very first day, I was surprised because of the distance between stores and cafes,” said Kutsyn, “and there is no walking area at the main streets.”

Back home in Uzhgorod, Kutsyn prefers to walk everywhere

“I feel happy when I’m walking,” she said. “I like the fresh air.”

After nine months in Washington, Kutsyn admits she’s out of practice walking to get places she wants to go — like school or the store.

Host families for Borgia’s other exchange students include:

Tina Neely (Svetlana Kuznetsova), Chris and Kathy Haddox (Paloma Sarmiento) and Clara Wicke (Katie and Nathan Nowak). Cary is staying here with relatives.

Sarmiento, who dreams of being a doctor someday, made the connection with her host family through her grandmother, who was an exchange student to America years ago.

During her stay, she made a friend, Sallie Shipley, and all these years, the two have stayed in touch. Shipley, whose children had attended SFBRHS, contacted the school to see if there might be a family willing to take in Sarmiento as an exchange student.

The Haddoxes seem to have been a good match for her.

Sarmiento said “being with the family” has been one of her favorite activities in America.