When Colombia-native Pavel A. Miranda Narvaez stepped off his first airplane flight last summer, he arrived in the United States with only two suitcases and a plan to teach Spanish in Rock Hill.
Miranda is one of six teachers in the district hired through Visiting International Faculty, a cultural exchange program that places qualified foreign teachers in American schools.
"My intention is not for them to love Spanish," he said. "My intention is to show that Spanish can be useful some way in their lives."
VIF teachers often take positions that have been difficult to fill, such as foreign language jobs.
"When we really get to the point that we have strong difficulty finding those, we might go to some of these outside entities who have recruited out in the world and have a pool of candidates that we can draw upon," said Beckye Partlow, executive director of personnel for Rock Hill schools.
Rock Hill has VIF teachers from the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Argentina and Colombia at elementary, middle and high schools, said Leslie Maxwell, spokeswoman for VIF.
Maxwell said Rock Hill is the only York County school district working with VIF. Chester County also has seven VIF teachers.
In addition to filling job vacancies, foreign teachers sometimes can bring extra pizzazz to the classroom.
"All of them have brought an excitement and enthusiasm for learning and for sharing their culture and their language," Rock Hill High Principal Judy Mobley said. "It gives another dimension that we can't give them if we grew up in this country and learned Spanish as a second language."
Miranda said he strives to educate students about different cultural traditions, while still respecting those of his students.
"It was fun learning about his culture," said junior Mary Boatswain, a Spanish II student at Rock Hill High. "It's like I took a trip there myself."
VIF teachers can stay in the United States for up to three years. After that, they must go back to their home countries. After another year or two, they have the option of returning for another three-year stint.
That is what Cintia Roman, a Rawlinson Road Middle School Spanish teacher from Argentina, chose to do.
After teaching in Rocky Mount, N.C., for three years, Roman went back to Buenos Aires and pursued a master's degree in education.
Roman now is in the first year of her second teaching trip to the United States. She said one of the things she liked about the program was the opportunity for real-world experience with other cultures, both for her students and for herself.
"I always wanted to learn English, and then you want to use it in the right place," she said. "It's good to speak to people and see all the things you've only learned about in books."
The VIF program is careful to hire only qualified teachers who know the subject matter and who will be understood by students. Partlow said video and phone interviews also allow administrators to be sure that teachers' accents will not pose a problem.
"We have done our screening of these candidates and we think you can understand them," she said. "Once our students adjust to how they speak, the students will be fine."
Hiring teachers from abroad is a statewide trend.
The S.C. Department of Education has arrangements with India, France, Spain and China, which makes it easier to hire teachers from those countries to fill short-term vacancies in South Carolina schools, said Mark Bounds, deputy superintendent for educator quality and leadership.
The largest connection is with India, where more than 200 teachers, primarily in math and science, came from this year.
Bounds said the state is considering piloting a program that would hire foreign teachers with the intent of staying in the United States instead of leaving after three years.
The biggest challenge many international teachers would face is adjusting to American culture, Bounds said.
"Getting used to Rock Hill compared to a small town in India could be quite a shock," he said. "We work really hard to help them become familiar with their community."