The student news site of Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vermont

Common Ground

The student news site of Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vermont

Common Ground

The student news site of Harwood Union Middle/High School in South Duxbury, Vermont

Common Ground

An Exchange with Harwood’s Exchange Students

Photo provided by Cas Tharaphi of Myanmar, one of Harwood’s Exchange Students.

“You live in a really nice place, so be grateful.”

This is Krystof Kral’s advice to Vermonters. Kral is a 12th grade exchange student from the Czech Republic.

Harwood Union High School has welcomed multiple exchange students each school year since 2003. Because most Vermont students have known each other since they were crawling in diapers, it can be exciting to meet new students.

So far, the exchange students this year have enjoyed their experiences in Vermont and have felt a strong sense of community. “I think when it is time to return we can definitely say Vermont is our second home,” said Naiara Garcías Alocén, an 11th grader from Spain.

At first, Elisa Bario, a 12th grader from Italy, was worried about coming to Vermont.

“I was scared we [would] arrive and they [wouldn’t be] kind. I was scared about food being unhealthy and it would not be sanitary, and lots of guns. Here you can just buy [a] gun, but not in Italy.”

Otherwise, the exchange students have experienced Vermont as a positive and welcoming place.

“I definitely call Vermont home,” Kral said. Even though the Czech Republic is bigger than Waitsfield, “Waitsfield is more fun.” He enjoys biking, hiking and hanging out with friends in the area.

Garcías Alocén was worried about getting to know people, so her first-day mentality was to make friends. “I talked to every single person I saw,” she said. Carolina Ranz Tejero, a student from Spain, said it took her four days to make friends, and Cas Tharaphi, a student from Myanmar, said it took her two to three weeks.

“Certain words in conversations, you don’t know what to say. There are some Asian students,” Tharapi said, but she added that she is the only one from Myanmar. “I feel out of place, but everyone is very welcoming.”

Starting in 2020, there has been a military coup in Myanmar. Tharapi’s father is a member of the Democratic Party, making him a target of the military.

“I stopped going to school and joined a civil disobedience group, so I was a target too, and could not stay. There are a lot of civil wars happening right now because of the military government,” Tharaphi said.

“My family is in a lot of danger. I don’t know where my mom or dad is right now. If I went back, I would be arrested or worse.” Tharaphi has not been in contact with her parents for about two months now.

“I would like to thank my exchange program because if I did not join I would be in a lot of trouble,” Tharaphi said. Her exchange program was supposed to last six weeks, but she has stayed in America with her original host family for about five months now.

When asked why he came to America, “You can’t work without English,” was Kral’s answer. He is interested in becoming either a lawyer or a business CEO. Bario also chose to become an exchange student because she wanted to improve her English for a future job. Bario is interested in becoming a lawyer. She came to the U.S. to experience a new culture, new friends, and an open mind.

“This is an important experience when we are young,” she said.

“The teachers here are so nice,” Kral said. “In the Czech Republic…they don’t respect you. You hate them and they hate you. Here…the teacher will help you to understand a topic.”

Bario has had a similar experience. “I was a little confused in AP stats because we use meters in Italy, but the teacher understands my difficult situation,” she said.

Kral has enjoyed the freedom of being an exchange student. Bario and Kral both had to study more in their home countries.

“Here you go home and don’t do school. These are the happiest moments in my life,” Kral said.

Tharaphi has appreciated the difference in schools as well.

“I remember having to memorize whole history textbooks,” she said. “There were no extracurriculars. They prioritized education, not sports or art.” She plans on taking art classes and participating in the spring musical with Ranz Tejero and Garcías Alocén.

“People told me that school in America was very easy, but I [couldn’t] imagine like this. It’s too easy!” Bario said. She plays on Harwood’s varsity volleyball team. She has felt most connected to her new community here with her team and with her host family.

The students are looking forward to American experiences like celebrating holidays and school dances. Ranz Tejero is excited for what she’s seen in American high school films, though she knows American life is not just like the movies. However, American schools are still different. “In my [Spanish] school, if you wear sweatpants everyday people will watch you like you’re weird,” Ranz Tejero said.

Most of the students miss food from home. Bario misses Italian food, especially pasta. Whenever someone tells her there is pasta here, she replies, “It is not the same, come on!”

“I was scared it would be all burgers and potatoes, but Vermont is very healthy for the American diet,” Bario said. “There is definitely a[n] American stereotype: big fat Americans with a cup of soda in one hand and McDonalds burger in other hand.”

Although there are a few things the exchange students wish Vermont had, such as recess for highschoolers, longer school lunch times, and more public transportation, their overall experience has been quite pleasant. How would Kral describe his sense of belonging in Vermont?

“Ten out of ten.”



Editor’s note: Harmony Devoe is a freshman at Harwood who originally wrote this story with the Underground Workshop, a network of student journalists across Vermont partnering with UVM’s Community News Service. The Common Ground was not involved in the reporting or editing of this story.

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