Exchange students receive warm welcome

— By MICHELLE BROOKS

Democrat staff

RUSSELLVILLE — The last week of school, the student body at Cole County R-1 Schools discovered a professional dancer in their midst. She was a foreign exchange student from Japan, but few knew her talents on the international stage.

That simply wouldn’t happen again as long as Susan Bell is librarian at the Russellville school.

She envisioned a Multicultural Club and interested Spanish teacher Christina Crews in morphing the Spanish Club into the broader agenda.

Both Crews and Bell are world travelers and have hosted trips for students to other countries, including to Costa Rica in 2014.

With more than 35 members, the more diverse cultural exploration club seemed to be popular with students, too, many of whom have traveled internationally with family or church missions.

The goal is to promote friendship and understanding of diverse cultures.

“I think a lot of problems might be solved if we tried to understand others,” said Senior Andrew Ford, whose family is hosting Marte Moe Haugen from Norway.

Already the club has hosted a booth at the school carnival and a Halloween party.

In addition to Haugen, Ryoko Asakuma from Japan and Connie Gonzalez from Chile, who are staying with host families in Jefferson City, were invited to the party.

The American students were excited about the opportunity to share this distinct piece of American culture with the international students.

Like many countries, Norway does little regarding Halloween, Haugen said.

“I wanted to experience something totally different and meet new cultures and new people,” she said. “I thought my home town was small with 20,000.

“So, 800 is a lot smaller than I’m used to.”

The party also fulfills the club’s primary objective “to create an atmosphere for people to come together,” said President Jakaya Tanoh.

Senior Grace Brewer stayed with host families in Europe this summer with the People to People Student Ambassadors Program.

“It was cool how much we have in common, though we barely speak the same language,” Brewer said.

Members hope the club will open the minds of their fellow students and stop stereotypes.

“We’re one race — the human race — in the end,” Tanoh said.

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