Payson High School has a record number of foreign exchange students this year.
Talk with them and a few things become clear.
Almost all love studying art and culinary arts in school and a recent trip to California ranks as the highlight of their journeys.
All are also grateful to be here, despite the cost to their families now that the Payson School District charges tuition.
Last week at a school board meeting, all expressed gratitude.
This is the first year the district has allowed an unlimited number of foreign exchange students and the first time they have charged $5,000 for tuition.
The only limitation on foreign exchange students is how many Rim Country families sign up to host a student.
Edie Miller, local international exchange coordinator for the Education First Foundation, said she is always looking for more hosts. For information, contact Miller at (928) 951-4871 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Albane Demaj of Norway
Hosted by Jadyn Walden
Albane says she always dreamed of traveling to America and her parents gave her the go-ahead to study abroad.
Since arriving in Payson, Albane says she loves the smalltown feel and the ease with which she has met people. “People are actually more nice here than in Norway,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better host mom and friends.”
Her favorite subject in school is history, but she also likes peer counseling. In the future, Albane says she hopes to study psychology at an American college.
Chia-Yu Chiu “Edward” from Taiwan/Republic of China
Hosted by Steve and Sherry Taylor
Growing up in Taiwan, Edward said he was surrounded by American culture. From NBA and MLB on the television, to 500 American fast food restaurants crowded on the small island — the U.S. influence was everywhere.
“Taiwan is influenced by American culture very much,” he said. “I think America is closely related to the whole world. That is why I chose to come here.”
So have the states lived up to Edward’s ideas? “I love every single person I know here. They are so nice and friendly. When I have any problem, they are glad to help me solve it. Even with vocabulary that I cannot understand they explain it to me patiently,” he said. “I love my American life! By the way,” he added, “I love that I can refill my drink for free!!!”
At Payson High School, Edward said his favorite classes are art and marching band.
He’s surprised students don’t have to wear uniforms, can go to school with dyed hair and wearing flip-flops and can basically do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break school rules.
And courses the U.S. labels advanced placement (AP) are classes Edward took as a sophomore in Taiwan.
“Lots of teenagers in America never wonder how big this world is and how lucky they are,” he said.
Rina Bessho of Japan
Hosted by Tony and Michelle McDaniel
Learning English was the main reason Rina wanted to study in the United States.
Since arriving, she says she has loved getting to know her host family, teachers and make new friends. “They are so nice and kind,” she said.
In school, art is Rina’s favorite subject. She says the dichotomy between teachers and students has been the most surprising thing about American culture.
“Adults and children are even, especially at school,” she said. “Teachers and students are just like friends. Students say their ideas or opinions to teachers like, ‘You are wrong’ and the teachers don’t feel bad. I think it is both good and bad and it just surprises me.”
Yen yu Liu “John” of Taiwan
Hosted by Devon and Laurel Wala
John said he was interested in studying in the U.S. because his sister studied here. “So I want to know how is the life in America.”
“The people here are so nice, helpful, and funny,” he said. “I am so glad that I have been chose in Payson. How I wish this could be forever.”
His favorite class at PHS is physics. “The biggest surprise to me is that at school there is no naptime after lunchtime,” he said.
John said he definitely wants to attend college in the U.S.
Emilie Stockholm Thomsen of Denmark
Hosted by Charlie and Susan Hall
Emilie says she wasn’t prepared for that when she arrived in Phoenix. “I still remember walking out of the airport, seeing my family for the first time, and my host dad was wearing a cowboy hat and I thought “Oh man, what am I getting into?”
Then school started. “When I saw everybody wearing boots to school it would never happen in Denmark, so it was a big surprise for me to see it here, but I love it.”
Emilie says she also likes that everyone in Payson knows each other or is related. “That is so different from what I’m used to in Denmark,” she said. “I like to do fun stuff, like riding horses and quads, and Payson is just such a little nice town, wherever you go, you see somebody you know.”
Ronja Zeugin of Switzerland
Hosted by Charlie and Susan Hall
Ronja said she was also surprised to see cowboys and cowgirls. “The United States is a really big country with a different culture than Switzerland so I wanted to see what other cultures the world have.”
Besides her new host family and friends, Ronja said she has loved learning about the country lifestyle and going to the Payson Rodeo.
Fasai Phongthanakul “Fah” of Thailand
Hosted by Laurie Gullett
With her 16th birthday around the corner, Fah said she is excited to celebrate it in the U.S.
“We don’t have any special birthday in my country, so I’m really excited about that,” she said.
And she is excited to celebrate it with so many new friends.
“Thank you to my host mom. You are so nice and kind to me, I feel like you are my real mom,” she said. And thank you every teacher, everyone in Payson High School – you guys made my year.”
Katharina Meule of Germany
Hosted by Scott and Janet Nossek
What is the best thing about Payson? For Katharina Meule of Germany, the wide-open sky and country music. The worst thing? Lack of public transportation.
“I really miss it,” she said. “In Germany, I can go everywhere I want with the busses and subways and here I always need a ride. I feel so sorry for my host family that they need to give me a ride so often.”
So far, she has learned to speak English fluently, made new friends and even visited California. “I have a lot of friends who spent their exchange year in America and they said it’s amazing and the culture is so different and interesting, so I decided to go to America,” she said.
Patrick Schlereth of Germany
Hosted by Mike Buskirk and Daria Mason
Patrick Schlerth of Germany can’t get enough of American religion. “I was really surprised how much fun church in America is with all the youth groups and activities,” he said.
He said he came to America to learn English, make new friends and learn about the culture.
“I love about Payson that everybody knows everybody and how kind people are,” he said.
Olivia Grubenmann of Switzerland
Hosted by Janie Winkle
Olivia’s plan to take a jog around Green Valley Lake recently didn’t go as planned. “I had to stop all the time to take pictures of the sunset because it was AMAZING,” she said.
What else has surprised her about America in general? “It seems like they always want to defend their country, school etc.,” she said. “And I am also surprised that so many Americans are really afraid to walk around alone because they’re afraid that someone is going to attack them.”
Katja Lange of Germany
Hosted by Trevor and Shelli Creighton
Katja says she likes different ways of life, different classes and different languages.
So far, her favorite class at PHS is culinary arts because she is learning how to cook and handle a knife, skills she hadn’t learned because culinary arts is not offered in Germany.
She says she loves living in Payson because it is easy to meet people. Although she does have one criticism: “The people in America are so lazy.”
Still, Katja said she loves America and encourages everyone to study abroad.
Rebecca Marie Karoliussen of Norway
Hosted by Kristi Kisler
Marie says she came to the U.S. to learn more about the culture, fine-tune her English and “have the best year of my life with many experiences in this beautiful country.”
She says she loves the nature surrounding Payson. “Many people think it is boring, but I think it has its own beauty,” she said. “I also like the people here, they are all so kind.”
She says she is most surprised at how easy everything is with drive-thru windows all over town, including at the bank, fast food restaurants and the pharmacy.
Her favorite subject in school is culinary art.
Philine Görzig of Germany
Hosted by Jonathan and Beverly Adams
Ask Philine what she loves most about Payson and she’ll tell you its nature and mountains.
Ask what her favorite class is and things aren’t so clear.
“I can’t really tell what my favorite subject is, I like all of them,” she said.
After high school, Philine says she plans to attend college and travel around the world.