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Exchange students diversify FPCA student body
Four of First Presbyterian Christian Academy’s five exchange students stand under a welcome sign decorated by students at the school. They are, from left: Patrick Ruediger, Alexandra Schlabs, John Shi and Andy Tang. The students, all 16, came from Denmark, Germany and China. - photo by Photo by Danielle Brown
School has been in session for more than a month, but some students are just now arriving.
On Tuesday, First Presbyterian Christian Academy got its first group of foreign exchange students through a program called Youth for Understanding.
The nonprofit allows students to travel and study abroad for a summer, semester or year with a host family in another culture, according to its website. They are encouraged to even not go home over holidays to make the immersion into their host culture more complete, according to Shannon Hickey, assistant FPCA principal.
“It is very exciting for our students, for the young men and women visiting and for the host families,” Hickey said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
The K-12 school decided to play host because there was a “desperate need” to place students and Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School could not take in the students, Hickey said.
The students arrived over the weekend in time to start school after Labor Day. Two are from Germany, two from China, and one is from Denmark.
Although the transition came quickly, the students were ready to go on Tuesday.
“I was very excited and overwhelmed,” said Sophia Mitchell, 16, from Denmark.
Mitchell has never been a fan of skirts, and didn’t see how it was reasonable to wear knee-highs in the Southern heat, she said of the required school uniforms.
She said in Denmark, there is no dress code and the students call teachers by their first names, something few American students will dare.
Alexandra Schlabs, 16, noticed that the classrooms have air conditioning and students have the luxury of driving their cars to school, which is unheard of in Germany.
“Students don’t go by car in Germany,” Schlabs said.
Most students ride a bike or take public transportation to school. Germans cannot drive until they are 18 years old, she said.
Before coming to the States, the students fill out an extensive profile and are background checked to ensure the safety of the host family.
Host families also go through criminal background checks, an in-home visit by the agency, and must sign an agreement that all agency rules will be followed during the visit. References are also required to host a foreign student.
Sammi Hester, Mitchell’s host mom, has done the exchange seven different times with students from as far away as Thailand.
“You have to integrate them as a family member,” said Hester, who has three children of her own, ranging in age from two to 10.
Hester frequently keeps in contact with some of her former exchange students through e-mail and phone calls.
She serves as a representative for YFU to promote the program and has also taken her children to visit a Brazilian exchange student she hosted years ago.
“It allows you to have culture come to you,” Hester said. “They bring all their blessings and share their knowledge.”

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