The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 23, 2014

Foreign exchange students enjoying friendly atmosphere while sharing their home culture with Geneva students


For the Star Beacon

GENEVA — Geneva High School has been participating in programs that have allowed overseas students to study in America for more than three decades and welcomed three foreign exchange students for the 2013-2014 school year. This year, the students come from Germany and Kyrgyzstan. Bennet Henking, Maximilian Kühl and Aizada Burkhanidinova have come from their home countries to study in the United States.

Bennet Henking is a sophomore from Nienburg, Niedersachsen, Germany. Henking said he came to the United States because he wanted to know how people live when they are not in Germany. After applying to and enduring an extremely difficult selection process, he was ecstatic to find out that he had been accepted into the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program, which provides scholarships and the opportunity for German students to study abroad for a year.

At Geneva Henking participates in Boy Scouts, youth group and indoor track, and is Geneva’s current mascot, Tuffy the Eagle. He concedes that America is different from what he’d anticipated.

“I didn’t expect so many fast-food restaurants!” Henking said. He said he has had a fairly easy time adjusting to living in the United States.

Maximilian Kühl is a senior from Neuss, Germany. Kühl said he joined the CBYX program to view a different country and language.

He had a bit of a rough start on his first day. Kühl said he was only kind of used to English and that this made it difficult to understand what was happening on his first day. However, he has flourished at Geneva. Kühl has a full schedule and participates in Boy Scouts and indoor track, where he competes in shot put, sprint and discus. He’s been enjoying his time in America, traveling around the states and seeing as much as he can.

In Germany, education is slightly different from education in the United States. Elementary school only goes up to fourth grade, at which point the students split into three different levels of school. The uppermost school goes to 12th grade, like American school systems. Both Henking and Kühl attend this sort of school. There are also no school buses. Students take public transportation or bike to school every day. Henking said there are hundreds of spots for bikes at his own school.

The final foreign exchange student studying in Geneva this year is Aizada Burkhanidinova, a senior from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She had a clear goal in coming to the United States, “I came here to share my culture and gain another culture,” said Burkhanidinova.

Getting here, however, was quite an ordeal. The program Burkhanidinova applied for, Foreign Leaders Exchange (FLEX), is very difficult to get into and required intense studying and diligent practice of her English. She said that she didn’t believe it was possible for her to pass the program because of how difficult it was to get accepted.

Burkhanidinova is involved in Key Club and Geneva’s drama department, having acted in the last show, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and participating in the costuming crew for the upcoming spring musical, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” She has also spent plenty of time meeting new people and enjoying how friendly the students of Geneva have been to her.

Burkhanidinova has found Geneva to be very different from her home school. In Kyrgyzstan, students follow a block schedule and only take one or two classes a day. For example, a student may only take a science class on Mondays and Thursdays, but take history on Wednesdays and Fridays. Burkhanidinova quickly adjusted to having the same classes daily. She also has a school uniform at home and thinks she will miss the freedom of Geneva’s dress code. Burkhanidinova has given Geneva students multiple opportunities to learn about her home country through presentations in classes and to the drama club.

All of the foreign exchange students will be leaving America toward the end of June, after school has ended. They also all agree that they will miss being in Geneva, even though they currently miss their home countries and all of their friends at home.

“Even if you say you don’t miss home, you do,” said Burkhanidinova. “You start to appreciate all the things you had, like parents and friends, but you get used to it. You make new friends and you get to know your host family. That keeps you from homesickness.”