Foreign exchange students taste life — and peanut butter — in rural America
By Ava Genho
Special to the Rappahannock News
They both traveled long distances to live in Rappahannock County and attend Rappahannock County High School. Learning about American customs, speaking English and adjusting in a new country challenges them and demands their attention each and every day.
Dave Wang of South Korea is seventeen and a senior. When asked, he stated that he chose his English name, Dave, after his best friend from Korea suggested it. Gayla Zolotukhina, only 16 years old, hails from Eastern Ukraine. She is in eleventh grade this year.
For International Student Week, the 4-H film club set out to interview them about their time spent in the United States.
The first question that arose dealt with obvious differences they saw between America and their homeland. Dave immediately noticed one of Rappahannock’s unique qualities — open country and natural air — an enormous change from the dense cities of South Korea that he’s used to.
He also found a major difference in the Korean and English languages, but has worked hard and adjusted well.
Gayla pointed out another big difference: Ukrainian and American schools. In her country, school is much more rigid and students are not permitted to eat, move around the classroom or doze off, all things that she found common here.
Ukrainian students are assigned a schedule at the beginning of the year and have six or seven year long classes instead of four blocks each semester. According to Dave, in Korea scholars “go to school at 8 o’clock a.m. and come back at nine p.m. [They] do a lot of studying and it’s really different.”
All these extra hours in school must have given Dave a boost in his education, for he reported that he had previously mastered several subjects he is now studying at RCHS.
A smile may seem like a universally accepted greeting, but Gayla tells otherwise. She said people in America smile at strangers. However, in Ukraine “people don’t smile without reason and they say, ‘Why do I need to smile? I don’t have a reason to smile.’ Our people are not so easy-going . . . ”
A world away from their homes, Dave and Gayla have become somewhat siblings as they have both been taken in by a gracious family in Castleton. Gayla discovered that family values were an important part of both Ukrainian and American traditions. And when she is homesick, she longs for comfort food.
“Oh, food. I miss some food so much,” Gayla raved wistfully and perfectly summed up how both of them felt about not having their favorite dishes nearby. Rice is a staple in South Korea, Dave explained, but is not eaten as much here and he misses it. Gayla craves buckwheat, borscht and varenyky, a dumpling that is one of Ukraine’s national dishes. Once she cooked varenyky with potato for her host family, who gobbled it up.
Last but not least, the film club asked the pair what they liked the best about the United States. Dave repeated that he loves the “quiet, and the fresh air, and the people. America has a lot of manners” and he says he will remember all these unique qualities when he returns to South Korea.
Gayla has discovered a new, uniquely American favorite treat.
“Frankly, my favorite thing here is peanut butter,” Gayla said. “I think when I go back to Ukraine, I will bring a whole suitcase of peanut butter with me . . . peanut butter and easy going people are just like a pledge of happiness for me!”
Something as simple as a smile, fantastic food or being able to converse with friends may seem normal and natural to most, but for these two young adults, miles away from home and family, they are grateful for the loving community of Rappahannock that has been able to replace the hometown comforts for which they yearn.
— Ava Genho, who lives in Woodville, is an eighth-grader at Rappahannock County High School