Five cultural exchange students from around the world step out onto a lake-front patio in Fort Mill. One by one, they recoil against the heat. “The weather, it is too hot and too humid,” said Johanna Gaillard, of France.
The students, part of the Rotary Club Cultural Exchange Program, spent last weekend in an orientation program, boating and jet skiing on Lake Wylie and learning the rules and regulations of being in the Rotary Club Cultural Exchange program.
The group, all girls, will spend the school year in schools around the South Carolina Upstate. One of them, Sofia Marquim, of Brazil, will spend the year at Fort Mill High School. Each student will live with a host family who volunteers to provide room and board for the student.
The girls arrived in the United States over the past week and settled in for a few days with their host families before traveling to Fort Mill for their program orientation, led by members of the Youth Exchange Committee for Upstate Rotary clubs, including David and Lisa Hudspeth of Fort Mill. For the students, the best part of orientation was having fun on the lake and going to their first American football game – the Border Battle Jamboree held at Fort Mill High.
“It was like a movie,” said Ann-Katherine Thiessen, of Germany. “We do not have American football at home.”
With only a week in the U.S. under their belts, the students are still getting used to the differences between here and their home countries. They've tried American food, including a lot of fast food and a traditional Low Country Boil.
“We do not eat so much fast food,” said Thiessen. “Never! We eat it so seldom and the size! It's all so big!”
And they spent a lot of time driving, the girls said.
“You drive by car everywhere here,” Thiessen said. “We cycle.”
“And the cars, they are so big,” said Gaillard.
While the weekend was made to be fun, the focus was on teaching the students the do's and don'ts of being part of the Cultural Exchange Program while acclimating them to their individual school rules, David Hudspeth said. They learned the 5 D's of the Cultural Exchange Program: No drinking, drugs, driving, dating or downloading.
Most surprising to the girls was their schools' dress codes, which most considered very strict. Marquim, however, attended a school that required uniforms. She looked forward to choosing her own clothes to wear when she begins classes at Fort Mill High School today.
Marquim has also enjoyed seeing the Town of Fort Mill and noted many differences between it and her home in Brazil.
“The city is very different, it's so beautiful. The houses are so beautiful. At home, it is all [apartment] buildings,” Marquim said.
David Hudspeth is beginning his second year as the chairman of the Upstate Rotary Club's Youth Exchange Committee. He and his wife became involved in the program five years ago when they hosted a student in their home.
The students will stay with several host families during the school year, for three months each. Host families receive no compensation for hosting a student in their home, Hudspeth noted.
“The only incentive to host is because you really want to,” Hudspeth said. “I think that is one of the great things about the program. We just enjoy having them. It's a cultural exchange. The value is just exposure to other cultures and understanding of the way people view things around the world.”