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State of exchange

The Tri-Lakes area has welcomed students from Prague and Osaka this year, and the two sat down recently to discuss their time abroad

February 28, 2009
By NATHAN BROWN, Enterprise Staff Writer

Hanka Sediva spent a year at Tupper Lake Middle-High school, and her sister Barbara came from the Czech Republic to visit her. Three years later, Barbara is spending a year in Tupper, too.

"I wasn't much surprised (by Tupper Lake), because I already knew where I was going, and what to expect," Barbara Sediva said, who is studying as a senior this year and will return home to the Czech Republic this summer.

"She already knew we were crazy," laughed Sheryl Fee. Sheryl and her husband Tom hosted both Hanka and Barbara.

Article Photos

Pictured above is exchange student Barbara Sediva (left), with host Sheryl Fee and Tia, one of the Fee’s three dogs.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)

Sediva is the only exchange student in Tupper Lake this year, and there are none in Lake Placid. Over at Saranac Lake high school, the sole exchange student is Wataru Shibayama, from Japan.

Shibayama's impression of Saranac Lake before he came here from Japan was "small."

"Small village, very cold place, there are no people outside, but the view is beautiful," he said.

Fact Box

Prague, Czech Republic

Population: 1.2 million

Famous foods: Veproknedlozel (pork, dumplings and sauerkraut), pivni syr (beer cheese), utopence (pickled sausage) and goulash (usually served with dumplings) are dishes associated with the area. The Czech Republic is also known for its beers; Staropramen and Gambrinus are popular, and Pilsner Urquell (the world's first pilsner) and Budvar are probably the best-known abroad.

Famous sites: Too many to list here; the Astronomical Clock, the Charles Bridge, the Old City, Wenceslas Square, the Jewish Quarter and the Franz Kafka Museum are a few.

Economy: Traditionally an industrial center, although tourism, retail, real estate and finance have been growing in importance since the end of communism. Metals and machinery, aircraft engines, automobiles, diesel engines, refined oil products, beer, electronics, chemicals, food and machine tools are all important products.

Culture: Known for a number of museums and festivals, including the National Museum, the Jewish Museum, several music festivals, the Karlovy Vevy International Film Festival and the Street Theater Festival. Also famous for its writers, composers and filmmakers; Franz Kafka lived here, and Mozart's Don Giovanni premiered at the Estates Theater.

In movies: "Mission: Impossible" (1996), "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1985), "From Hell" (2001), "Amadeus" (1984), "The Bourne Identity" (2002), "Dungeons and Dragons" (2000) and "Les Miserables" (1998) were all wholly or partially filmed here, as was the Kanye West music video "Diamonds from Sierra Leone."

Osaka, Japan

Population: 2.6 million

Famous foods: Nicknamed "the nation's kitchen." Famous for a number of dishes that have gained popularity throughout Japan, including "takoyaki," or octopus dumplings, and "okonomiyaki" pancakes. Instant ramen noodles were invented here by Nissin Foods.

Famous sites: Osaka Castle, the Osaka Aquarium, the Osaka Natural History Museum, the Tennoji Zoo and the Shitennjo-ji Temple are a few of the better-known sites. Osaka is also home to several amusement parks.

Economy: The Osaka metropolitan area has the seventh-largest city economy in the world. It houses the leading futures exchanges in Japan, and a number of major companies, including Panasonic and Mitsubishi, are headquartered here. Osaka is also one of Japan's industrial centers; chemical and metal products, iron, steel and machinery are important products.

Culture: The Osaka Shochikuza, a kabuki theater, is here; kabuki is a traditional type of play known for its stylized drama and dancing. The Tempo-zan Harbor Village and Suntory Musuem house impressionist, post-impressionist and modern art and photography. The National Bunraku Theater is here; Bunraku is a traditional Japanese puppet play. The Osaka Noh-gaku Kaikan performs "Noh" plays, a traditional style of musical where actors wear masks.

In movies: Destroyed by Godzilla in "Godzilla Raids Again" (1955) and "Godzilla vs. Biollante" (1989). Also, "Black Rain" (1989), with Michael Douglas, is set in Osaka.

Both Sediva and Shibayama are from much larger communities than the ones they are in now. Shibayama is from Osaka, a major commercial center, which is the second-largest city in Japan during the day with 3.7 million people (it slips down to third-largest at night when the commuters go home). Sediva is from Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and a city of 1.2 million.

Shibayama seemed happy with the change of pace that comes with living in a little city of 5,000.

"It's such a quiet village," he said. "I came from a big city, so crowded and choking. I hated it."

Shibayama said he was "so moved by the beautiful views" when he arrived in the fall and saw the colors of the leaves.

Sediva said she misses life in the city sometimes.

"Prague is a lot different," she said. "It's busier, I would say. But here is more peaceful, so that's something too."

Both had positive impressions of the school system here, and said it varied greatly from their homelands.

"Oh yes, it's a lot different here," Sediva said. "School here is much easier for me. In my school (in Prague), it's more intense, and they expect more studying from us. Here, they expect us only to do homework. In my school, they expect us to do a lot of work on our own."

Shibayama said he was impressed by the casual and friendly relationships between different age groups in American high schools, as opposed to the strict barriers he felt back home.

"In high school in the United States, all the children are friendly with each other," he said. "But in Japan, we have to use honorific words when talking to older students."

Both also play sports: Sediva played volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter, and Shibayama is a long-distance runner in indoor track. Sediva said sports are not offered at schools in the Czech Republic.

As for the food in the U.S., Sediva said it's "definitely great." Many of the foods, she said, are similar to back home - pizza and pasta, for example, are common in the Czech Republic, too.

Shibayama said he likes hamburgers. He said the food at chain restaurants such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut taste almost the same in Japan and the U.S.

Tom Fee said Barbara is a good baker, a skill, she says, she learned from her grandmother.

"She makes a wicked strudel," he said.

Tom talked about one time when she made an apple strudel.

"She was all white after," he said. "There wasn't a part of her that wasn't covered in flour."

Both miss people and will miss people - both their friends and families back home and the friends they have made here.

"I would say it's mostly the people," Sediva said, when asked what she misses about Prague the most. "My friends and family."

"Honestly, I don't miss Japan, because before I came to the United States, I was eager to come," Shibayama said. "But sometimes I feel lonely about my friends."

Sediva said she would miss the Fees, and their three dogs, and the food. Also, "I'll miss how the life here is relaxing for me."

"I'm going to miss my friends in the United States, and the beautiful views and the American characters," Shibayama said. "The people are so funny compared to Japanese people. Japanese people are kind of quiet and strict. I don't want to think about that I'm going to go back to my country."

Local sponsors

The student exchanges in Tupper Lake are sponsored by the AYUSA Global Youth Exchange.

Tom Fee said he first got involved in AYUSA through former Tupper Lake village police Chief Ron Cole, who also hosted a student.

The ones in Saranac Lake are often coordinated by AFS Intercultural Programs, said Saranac Lake high school Principal Bruce VanWeelden. VanWeelden said AFS contacts the school, to see if they are willing to host someone, then looks in the community for host families, often going through the Rotary Club to find them.

"They (Rotary Club) have an ongoing supply of host families," VanWeelden said. "That's something they've done traditionally."

VanWeelden said the principal must then approve the family, but "99 times out of 100 it's not an issue at all."

Lost in translation

Although both Shibayama and Sediva speak English well, Shibayama said the language barrier was a problem for him when he first arrived.

"I have been studying English for fours years and a half," he said. "But what we learn is just English grammar. We didn't learn how to speak, how to reason in English. At first, I was troubled by it, I couldn't make conversation."

VanWeelden said linguistic difficulties are the most frequent cause of academic problems for foreign students. He said part of his job is checking the students' backgrounds before they arrive here, to see how much English they've had and whether they understand enough to take classes here.

If it is an issue, "we do have resources we can use to help them along," VanWeelden said.

One is the district's English as a Second Language teacher, Katherine Houseal. There are other options, too. Once, VanWeelden said, a student from Spain sat in on a Spanish 5 class to pick up English while the other students learned Spanish.

If it is still an issue and the student is not connecting with peers and teachers, VanWeelden said the school would contact the host family and the agency sponsoring the exchange to discuss whether the student should stay.

VanWeelden said that, in his three years as principal, he has never seen a student go home due to language skills, although there were problems with a student from Spain once.

"We had to sit down and discuss the possibility," VanWeelden said. "However, the student was doing really well socially. Although he had a language barrier with regards to classes, he was doing well with peers, students, friendships. There was a positive they could build on. They often learn more from peers anyway."

Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or



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