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Exchange students reflect on culture

By Staff | Nov 14, 2008

Marlene Walthart introduced Xinran Chen and Thanakan Leetrakool, foreign exchange students through the Youth For Understanding program who are staying at the Walthart home, to Estherville Rotarians Thursday. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Asia may be a long way away geographically, but culturally our societies can be very much the same.

Thanakan (Tom) Leetrakool of Kanchanaburi, Thailand and Xinran (Andy) Chen of Tianjin, China told Estherville Rotarians Thursday not only of the differences between their homes and the U.S., but the similarities as well. The two young men, who are participating in the Youth For Understanding program, are spending this school year at the home of Larry and Marlene Walthart of Estherville.

Andy, who lives a half hour from Beijing, was proud of the fact that his nation hosted this year’s summer Olympics. “I think China did a good job in holding the Olympics this year,” Andy said.

Andy came to the U.S. because he wanted to learn more about American culture. “I enjoy it,” he observed.

A major difference he observed was that school in China lasts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with only about two weeks off each year. With 6,000 in his high school, it’s far different than ELC where there are 300.

Learning is much different too. “Just do whatever the teacher says” in class in China, he said. “In China nobody will ask the teacher why.” At ELC, though, students are encouraged to ask questions.

“I think here is more fun,” Andy said. “I really love my country but I really hate my school.”

Andy bought a guitar soon after he arrived in the U.S. and he’s now teaching himself to play both the guitar and the piano. Another hobby he thoroughly enjoys is photography. He couldn’t wait to get a picture of an Iowa sunset – something rarely visible in the highly populous city where he lives.

Housing is much different in China than in the U.S. Andy lives in a 16-floor apartment building on the university campus where his father teaches English. His mother, a physician, commutes about 20 minutes for her job.

Like many families, Andy is the only child under the Chinese government’s one-child-only policy. As a result, his parents pay just a little too much attention to him and want him to be the best in his class.

While Andy downplays his mathematical ability among his peers in China, Marlene said he excels in that subject at ELC. In fact, she said some of the math he is taking now he had in sixth grade in China. His career aspiration is to become an ambassador.

Tom came to the U.S. to improve his English. Like Andy, he’s from a populous area – Kanchanaburi, the third-largest city in Thailand.

Tom has an older sister who coincidentally stayed with the Waltharts a year as well. In fact, it was his sister who inquired with the Waltharts as to whether they would like her brother as an exchange student in their home. They eagerly accepted him into their home.

In Thailand, Tom attends school five days a week from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., a very similar schedule to what he has at ELC. His favorite classes here are geography and social studies. His career goal is to become an attorney.

Walthart said all people should consider hosting a foreign exchange student in their homes. “They just bring so much into our lives,” she said.