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Lakewood High School hosts cultural exchange

From left, Belgian exchange student Gauthier Benit, a senior at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, and Italian exchange student Marco Longo, a senior at the Marysville Arts and Technology High School, spoke highly of the levels of personal freedom theyve observed in America. -
From left, Belgian exchange student Gauthier Benit, a senior at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, and Italian exchange student Marco Longo, a senior at the Marysville Arts and Technology High School, spoke highly of the levels of personal freedom theyve observed in America.
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LAKEWOOD Nearly two-dozen nations and three school districts were represented at a cultural exchange dinner in the Lakewood High School commons May 15.
According to Oscar Escalante, the international chair of the Marysville Rotary, the event expanded upon the cultural exchange breakfast that the Rotary conducted at Fannys restaurant in Marysville, in November of last year.
Like the dinner, the breakfast included foreign exchange students from the Lakewood, Arlington and Marysville School Districts, who introduced themselves, as well as their cultures. Unlike the breakfast, the dinner was supported by several other area restaurants, as well as word-of-mouth from the American students that the exchange students had befriended, since arriving in August of last year.
Once the schools Respect Teams got involved, the response was overwhelming, said Escalante, who estimated that close to 150 students, both American and exchange, attended the dinner.
As students of all nationalities enjoyed free meals from Fannys, Las Coronas, Wienerschnitzel and Major League Pizza, their peers lined the walls with information booths about their home countries.
In the case of LHS Respect Team sophomore Jordan Gilbert, her home country is in the United States. Gilbert and LHS Respect Team freshman Alyssa Hill presented a display on the Southern states, in part because Gilbert moved to Lakewood from New Orleans when she was in eighth grade. The exhibit included pictures of all the Southern state flags and a history of slavery in America, but it also offered photos of entertainers and musicians who have come from the South, as well as lists of Southern song and dance styles.
I just want to show where were from and what we represent, said Gilbert, who still notices what she considers the relatively laid-back atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest. A lot of people assume that the South is all violent or mean, and its not. Ive had people assume I was in a gang because I came from there. Thats just foolishness.
Hailing from far further afield were Japanese exchange students Kaori Hokazono, a junior at LHS, and Mao Kobata, a junior at Lake Stevens High School, who showed up in traditional kimonos to show off their information booth. The display featured several origami figures and described a number of facets of everyday Japanese life, from the tendency of their diet to rely upon fish and vegetables, to the greater degree of formality in their culture.
Americans speak so fast, said Kobata, whose exhibit explained how Japanese schools require uniforms for all students and run from April to March of each year. There is a little less respect.
Everything is huge here, said Hokazono, who elaborated on the differences between more formal winter kimonos and more casual summer kimonos. She acknowledged that most Japanese now wear Western-style dress.
In spite of feeling slightly overwhelmed, Hokazono doesnt look forward to leaving her American friends behind when she returns home.
I will miss everything about this place, Kobata said.
As an Arlington High School Respect Team senior, Brazilian exchange student Manuella Melo hopes her American classmates have learned that her home country is more diverse than that
We have nature, which everyone already knows about, Melo said. But we also have big businesses and big cities.
Melo repeated the frequent refrain of many of her fellow exchange students when she deemed the size difference between America and her home country to be the biggest source of culture-shock for her.
We have five small meals a day, Melo said. You have three big meals, which is hard to get used to. Before I came here, though, Id never eaten Mexican food and I really enjoy it now.
Melo had also never seen snow before coming to America, since every day is 96 degrees where she lives in Brazil, nor had she ever attended a school where athletics were so fully integrated with her classes.
Its so connected here, Melo said. And people are so friendly. Even if they dont know you, theyll walk up to you and tell you, Nice job!
Netherlands exchange student Kelly Noten, an Arlington High School junior, echoed Melos fondness for what she characterized as American gregariousness.
In the Netherlands, you dont just go up to people and talk to them, said Noten, her laptops slideshow of fast facts about her home country playing at the same time as Melos. But Americans just come up to me, which makes it much easier to get to know each other.
Relying upon cars for transportation has been an adjustment for a student from the Netherlands, where bicycles outnumber people. Noten has also felt frustrated occasionally in her efforts to explain which country she comes from.
Most people dont know where the Netherlands are, until you tell them thats where Amsterdam is, Noten said. Even then, so many people have this unfair image of Amsterdam, but just talking about it allows everyone to learn a lot.
Neither Gauthier Benit, of Belgium, nor Marco Longo, of Italy, brought information booths of their own, but they were more than willing to share their insights on America.
Benit, a senior at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, visited America last year, with a trip to San Francisco, and his assessment of it was similar to Notens praise that everything here looks the way it does in the movies!
As for Longo, a senior at the Marysville Arts and Technology High School, he laughed that hes missed going to disco clubs, before he added, Ive loved meeting Germans, Mexicans and all other different people here, from all around the world. Everyone greets everyone else the same, no matter what their nation is or who their parents are. Theyre all equal.

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