Exchange students tell of cultural differences

FELTON — Lake Forest High-School graduates and exchange students Mrunali Desai and Putu Cathay Varianthy say they will never forget their year in Felton, even while continuing their high school education in their home countries.

“This year really doesn’t count for us,” 16-year- old Mrunali of India said. “I’m actually in the 10th grade in my home country. I have the option of going to the 12th grade next year, but I’d have to complete an exam. So I’m just going into 11th grade.”

Despite being younger than her graduating classmates at LFHS, Mrunali said the work was easy compared to the education system in India.

Cathay, a 17-year- old 12th grade student from Indonesia, agreed.

“My hardest class I think was AP chemistry. I wanted to do AP math, too. Because it doesn’t count towards our home country education, we didn’t have to get certain grades, but I wanted to so I don’t lose the information,” she explained.

Besides the differences in educational standards, Cathay said she noticed another big difference between education in her home country and that of Delaware.

“I really feel happy that our teacher comes to our desk when we have a need. At home, we have to go to them. And teachers move from class to class instead of the kids,” she said. “Teachers here are patient, kind and supportive. Back home, it’s more formal. I think that’s because of our culture.”

family photo

Lake Forest High-School graduates and exchange students Mrunali Desai and Putu Cathay Varianthy say they will never forget their year in Felton, even while continuing their high school education in their home countries. They are seen here with their host-mother Denise Thomas in Felton. Special to The Journal

Mrunali and Cathay were afforded the opportunity to spend a year in the United States through the Council on International Educational Exchange and by winning a competition that took upwards of a year and a half through.

In Indonesia, Cathay said 6,00010,000 students applied for 85 spots. The competition included a written exam, role-playing and observations to test general knowledge, English language and leadership skills. They also had to pass a health check.

In India, Mrunali said 35 students were selected out of a pool of about 6,000 with similar testing criteria.

Once chosen for the program, profiles of the students are sent to those interested in hosting exchange students in the United States, like Denise Thomas of Felton.

The Milford School District social worker said she was interested in hosting exchange students in the past, but her schedule wouldn’t allow the commitment. Until this year.

“I am very interested in other cul tures and places. I have been to China and Brazil. I thought, I have this house and I’m here by myself. So, I said, ‘Oh okay, I’ll try it now,’” Ms. Thomas said. After reviewing profiles of participating students which included questionnaires, grades and other personal information, Ms. Thomas made her decision to add not one, but two teenagers to her home for the year. “It was an adjustment. They have their own rooms, their own spaces,” she said. “I was used to walking around how I want to. Also, I had more responsibility. I didn’t really cook before, but here I was planning out menus.” Mrunali and Cathay stayed active during their time at LFHS, going above and beyond the amount of community service hours required by their programs.

Both students volunteered more than 100 hours throughout the year by helping with a beach clean-up and carriage rides at the Downtown Milford Holiday Stroll among many other activities.

Mrunali spent a lot of time in the Business Professionals of America organization at LFHS, while Cathay was involved with local Girl Scouts and the French Club.

They also enjoyed trips outside of the Felton area with fellow exchange students. The group traveled to Georgia to visit the World of Coca Cola and Six Flags, Virginia Beach, Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach, the Statue of Liberty in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Skiing in the Poconos was new to Cathay and Mrunali, as were many aspects of life Americans find nor mal.

“It was my first experience with Halloween. We talked about it in our culture, but don’t celebrate it,” Cathay said. “It’s different, too, because the United States is full of freedom. It seems like with all the freedom, everybody is going crazy.”

Mrunali said she had another first experience during her year away.

“When I first came to Delaware, -was like, ‘Where are we?’ There was nothing,” Mrunali joked. “Delaware was the opposite to what I thought of the United States, which was more like New York.”

Using their experiences abroad, the students said they want to continue their education beyond high school. Mrunali would like to work inlaw enforcement and Cathay would like to work for the United Nations.

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