Six International students, pictured here with their host siblings, will be attending Keene Central School this year.
For the first time ever, Keene Central School is hosting six international students from six different countries for the entire school year.
The students, who have been arriving throughout the past week as part of a new International Student Program, got to meet each other at a picnic Friday, Aug. 31 at the Keene Community Center.
And even though the six visitors all hail from big cities, the smallness of the region’s mountain towns wasn’t the first thing that struck them.
“It’s so green here,” said Luiza Parolin, an 11th grader from Curitiba, Brazil. “Here, everybody tries to help. They help themselves and they help the environment. I think that’s awesome.”
Iñigo Azcona, a tenth grader from Madrid, Spain, agreed: “In Madrid, there’s a lot of pollution. It’s very green here. It’s good.”
The plethora of green flora in the Adirondacks is something the region’s residents experience daily — the leaves on the trees melt into a steady, verdant blur when seen from the passenger seat of a moving car; the smell of pine is undeniable when the windows are rolled down.
Cultural diversity, on the other hand, is not as common.
“I just thought about how we’re kind of isolated here, and I thought it would be good to introduce our students to cultural diversity,” said Joy McCabe, who helped bring the program to the school.
While in the states, the international students will live with host families — two in Jay, two in Keene and two in Keene Valley — and will have a chance to experience what small town life in the Adirondacks is like. They will also carry full course loads during the school year.
Two of the students are juniors and one is a sophomore. The four who are seniors will be required to pass a regents-level exam to graduate.
Some of them already have plans for the future, while others aren’t quite as certain.
“When I graduate I want to attend a university in the United States and study to be a counselor or a psychologist,” said Chloe, a 12th grader from Hanoi, Vietnam. “And right now, I’d like to find work as a babysitter.”
Susanne Ruud, a 12th grader from Norway, has different post-school plans: “I want to travel and then go to college.”
Ruud is no stranger to travel, either. To date, she has been to Italy, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Poland and Greece. Now that she can cross the United States off her wish list, she has her sights set on Australia and Asia.
While here Ruud said she wants to experience American life, a statement that would probably make Mike Johnson, program Coordinator for the International Students Program, happy to hear.
“I think a lot of countries have a bad stigma about America, but I don’t think Keene is like that,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge value to this community that these students can take that knowledge home with them, and that our students can go out into the world after they graduate and say they’ve met people from other countries and mean it.”
Johnson said he hopes the program can enrich the lives of everyone involved, and from the sound of things, it’s off to a good start.
“My city is really busy, so I’ve had a busy life,” said SeokJae Hong, an 11th grader from the northern region of South Korea. “Keene Valley is really good, the air is really fresh and the people are all so nice.”
But the mountains Adirondackers are so accustomed to seeing are not a new geological site for all of the visiting students.
“Taiwan has a lot of mountains, but few people live in them,” said Jonah Wu, a 12th grader from Hsinchu, Taiwan.
Like all of the students, Wu commented on how welcoming everyone has been to him. Even though he wants to return to Taiwan to attend college, there is one thing he wants to experience before he heads back, something that some locals love, and others despise.
“I can’t wait for the winter time,” Wu said. “I’ve never seen snow dropping before.”