For years, the AFS program and the Winters community have brought young adults from around the globe to study at American high schools. One of the program’s goals is to immerse students in American culture, along with a belief that small communities can teach visitors about the average American’s life in a way that large cities cannot.
Winters High School is hosting three exchange students this year, from Thailand, Italy and Argentina. The students faced stiff competition among their peers, as in some cases thousands of students in their region apply for the opportunity to spend a year at an American high school.
Pawarun Kangranwanich is from Bangkok, Thailand, and she goes by Soya. Her family lives in a suburb, 30 minutes by sky train from the bustling downtown of Thailand’s capital.
Her school in Thailand is not much larger than Winters High, with about 700 students. At home, she participated in Thai martial arts classes and music lessons. Now that she is at Winters High, she has enjoyed participating on the swim team.
When asked if there was anything that surprised her about life in California, she said that for the most part, things have been mostly as she imagined them. She has a cousin who lived in Washington as an AFS scholar, and Kangranwanich had heard her many stories about life in small town America.
Then she laughed, and remembered one thing that took her by surprise when she moved to Winters. Before coming to California, she had no idea that Americans ate with a knife and fork. She explained that in Thailand, people usually eat with a fork and spoon.
Kangranwanich has wanted to study in America for a long time. Her international school English teachers would tell stories about American life, and she was interested in visiting from a young age.
Emanuela Corria, who goes by Emma, is from Italy. She thought her hometown of Nuoro was small before she moved to Winters, but it has roughly 40,000 residents. Nuoro is located on the island of Sardinia, in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
She admitted that when she thought of California, she always pictured the ocean. She was a little surprised when she came to Winters and found that she was so far inland. Corria is used to being near the coast. Living on an island, the beach is never too far away.
Corria loves that Winters is a small town where everyone seems to know each other, and is enjoying her time at the high school. Corria was very surprised by the way that classes were conducted when she first started at Winters High. In Italy, the students stay in the same class while the teachers move from room to room.
Corria was particularly excited by the way the school and the community got involved in Homecoming festivities this past September. She says that seeing the teachers join in the fun made her happy, because the teachers at her school in Italy do not participate in anything outside of school.
In Corria’s hometown sports teams and non-academic clubs are not associated with school, so she’s taking full advantage of the extracurricular acticities that Winters High has to offer. So far, she has joined both the Interact Club and the swim team.
Martine Alvarez has travelled from El Bolson, Argentina. El Bolson is located in Patagonia, a diverse and sparsely populated region that expands to both Argentina and Chile. His hometown is large, but his school is very small. Winters High School is actually much larger than his school in El Boson.
Back in Argentina, Alvarez says that he played soccer often and enjoyed skiing. Now that he’s in California, Alvarez will probably see a bit of snow, and has joined the football team. Alvarez had never played football before, but he is enjoying the sport so far.
Alvarez enjoys the small town feel of Winters. He finds that it is easy to get to know people, and that people remember him and talk with him.
All three students have big plans for the rest of their time as Winters High students. Kangranwanich hopes to learn some American folk songs on one of the many instruments she plays. All three have dedicated themselves to participating in the teams and clubs that Winters high has to offer. They are hoping to see as much of California as they can before their year is up.