BENNINGTON — After living in the United Kingdom for 11 years and taking part in the Education First high school exchange program herself, Kristen Olmstead has hosted foreign exchange students for five years, and serves as a coordinator for the program.
Two high school girls have joined the Olmstead-Paine family within the past month and they won't depart the country until a year is up. Annemarie van de Put is from the Netherlands and Maria Elena Angeloni is from Italy. Estela Casas Guzman is also in town, from Spain, and is staying with Carly Plaisance for the school year.
This is the first year the Olmsteads are hosting two students.
All three girls come from very different backgrounds, but share the same mind-set of experiencing new things and wanting to improve their English. Both are major motives for why they chose to participate in the program.
School life is the biggest thing the girls have had to adapt to. School sports don't exist in their countries and the hours that they're in school differ.
Van de Put bikes 30 to 40 minutes to school. Each day starts at a different time and she has different courses every day. She also already graduated and is taking this year to travel before university.
Angeloni drives to school with her mother, who she works close by, and she only has Sundays off because they're in session on Saturdays. However, the last bell rings at 1:30 p.m.
Guzman takes a bus to school and stays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Mount Anthony Union High School has been welcoming of the girls, they said. They assumed people would be less interested or "closed up," but many have opened up to them.
Angeloni and Guzman are taking classes that will count toward credits for university — the equivalent of American college — so they have grade expectations to meet through the program. Angeloni said she plans to study medicine in university.
Van de Put, on the other hand, chose classes that she was interested in such as Spanish and accounting. Olmstead said the only requirement for her is to maintain a grade above a 70 and to take one U.S. history class as well as an English class.
Another thing the girls have in common is dancing. Angeloni and van de Put have joined the cheerleading team and Guzman is managing the dance team. Each student Olmstead hosted has participated in a school sport – usually something they hadn't done before like cross country skiing or volleyball. Guzman also tried out for the volleyball team.
All have attended at least one sporting event including field hockey, football, and soccer.
"With football, it's like a completely different sport," van de Put said. "I didn't understand anything that was going on. It's fun to watch because you always see it on TV but now it's real."
"When we were in the football game, I was like what? The cheerleaders, the music..," Guzman said. "It's new things and new people."
She explained that boys would play football in her school's courtyard, but there aren't organized sport clubs.
Plaisance said Guzman has tried a lot of new food already, including a cupcake. She also had never experienced a drive-through fast food restaurant and thinks American dinner time is too early. Her family eats a small portion at 10 p.m.
It's too soon to tell if the girls are homesick; they think it will kick in around the winter holidays.
Angeloni is an only child and would have dinner with her parents every night and have lunch with them on Sundays. Olmstead said it's different for her to have to share a bedroom with van de Put and live with more siblings.
Plaisance has an older brother, but she said she's thrilled to have Guzman because she feels like a sister. She said they clicked as soon as Guzman was picked up from the airport.
"It was super easy for her to fit in," Plaisance said. "It took time to get used to it but now it's just normal like if I had a sister."
Olmstead's son is a sophomore at Mount Anthony and her daughter is five. For them, having another kid in the house isn't unusual. She said the parenting doesn't change much either. She prepares basic guideline sheets for the students such as how to turn the shower on, explaining what can be recycled and what time curfew is. Other than that, her and her husband, Malcolm Paine, have had a great experience with the program.
One limitation is that the students can drink and go out to clubs in their countries, but not in America. Olmstead said they obey the law and generally respect the household.
"It's the diplomatic mission," Olmstead said about the program's impact. "It's important for our family and for our community."
She added that the teachers and guidance counselors at Mount Anthony are accommodating of the students and that it's great for schools in Vermont to partake in the exchange. She previously worked in Massachusetts and said there's more concern about tax dollars when it comes to foreign exchange programs, whereas Vermont appreciates the exchange more as an experience for the community.
For more information, visit efexchanceyear.org.
Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.