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Different strokes Foreign exchange students tell of schools’ cultural differences

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ST. REGIS FALLS - Switching schools can be difficult enough, but heading to a school in another country can be another thing entirely.

The St. Regis Falls Central School District has hosted two foreign exchange students this school year.

Brazilian junior Guilherme Messias-Junglaus and Bangkok junior Virawat Tansirikongkhon arrived in the area in August.

Messias-Junglaus’s last day of school was Jan. 24; he flew back to Brazil this past week.

But Messias-Junglaus wasn’t disappointed that he only stayed one semester.

“I think five months is enough,” he said. “One year is too much because you can’t go back to home and then come back, it’s too much time.”

However, he was glad he came.

“I had a really nice time,” Messias-Junglaus said, adding that since arriving he was able to improve his English.

Messias-Junglaus said he wanted to come to New York because he “always wanted to see snow.”

Though from two different countries, both students had some similar experiences with the differences in the way their schools operated versus their American educational experience.

Both students noted that studying is the prime focus in both their countries.

Messias-Junglaus said in Brazil students have to study “a lot more” than they do at SRF.

“You can’t choose the subjects you want to study like you can here,” he said. “So you have to study, like, everything together.”

He said those subjects include chemistry, physics, biology, sociology, philosophy, history, Portuguese and geography – “everything together.”

Tansirikongkhon said students in Thailand also have different ways of studying.

“It’s kind of like college,” said Jessica Clark, who with her husband, Jeff, hosted the two through the International Student Exchange program.

They have been with the program for around a year and are titled as area representatives.

Tansirikongkhon said subjects at his school have programs associated with them.

“There’s science and math, and all your math is math-business,” he said.

“Thai people ... you have to go to a good university to make yourself have a better job,” Tansirikongkhon added. “We study hard a lot.”

He also said back home the teachers give homework “every day,” but at SRF he has less homework to complete on a daily basis.

Both students also noted that physical education classes aren’t important in their countries.

Tansirikongkhon said in his home school the physical education class meets once a week.

“It’s not important to them,” he said. “They kind of focus on studying only.”

“We don’t even have P.E.,” Messias-Junglaus added.

Tansirikongkhon said in Thailand students have to keep their opinions to themselves because teachers won’t listen.

But in Brazil, Messias-Junglaus said “it’s not like that at all.”

Thai students are separated into different rooms based on their intelligence level.

“They’re all split into room one, room two, room three, room four and room five,” Tansirikongkhon said, adding that the rooms they are in signify how smart each student is.

“Room one is the smartest,” Tansirikongkhon said.

Both noted that in their native countries, students have to wear uniforms on a daily basis.

Messias-Junglaus said sometimes he wishes SRF made students wear uniforms. “If you wear a uniform ... you save your clothes,” he said.

They also noted students in their countries don’t have lockers.

“We don’t change the class, the teacher does,” Messias-Junglaus said. “You always stay all the time in the same classroom.”

Tansirikongkhon said this isn’t his first time staying an English-speaking country, “but not for a whole year like this, just temporary, like a summer program.”

Ms. Clark said this was Messias-Junglaus’ first trip out of Brazil.

Tansirikongkhon has played on the SRF soccer team and is currently on the varsity basketball team.

Ms. Clark said Messias-Junglaus didn’t participate in any sports because he wanted to focus on his academics.

However, she said he was in the Students Against Destructive Decisions group in the school.

St. Regis Falls school board member Harry Ratcliffe recently asked Messias-Junglaus what experiences he will take back to his country.

“Some things of the school, like, Brazilian school could improve [and] the way people feel about their country,” Messias-Junglaus said. “They are very patriotic.”

Tansirikongkhon said he liked the small population of the school because it was easier to make friends, noting there were 5,000 students who attend his school in Bangkok.

Messias-Junglaus and Tansirikongkhon said they will keep in contact with those students whom they’ve befriended.

The Clarks are now hosting another student, Jiyoung Park from South Korea.

Park, a junior, is excited to start at SRF on Monday and will be staying until the end of December.

This is her first time in America.

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