Exchange students take first-hand look at USA
Each year, a handful of foreign-exchange students enroll at Tonganoxie High School.
This school year has been no different, as three students from various countries are attending THS.
Dongju Kang, who is from South Korea, is living with Edward and Connie O'Brien.
Dima Didukh, who hails from the Ukraine, is staying with Ron and Valerie Kampfer, and Stephanie Rust of Germany is staying with Larry and Ginger Bouza.
Pusan, South Korea
Tonganoxie definitely is a change of pace for Kang. His hometown has a population of 4 million, so living in a community of roughly 3,000 has taken time to adapt to.
"It used to be really hard, but now it's getting better," Kang said. "Now I'm OK."
Kang has found it interesting to see high school students driving vehicles. In South Korea, the legal driving age is 19.
Classes in Tonganoxie also differ from South Korea, Kang said.
"School is, I think, a lot easier than our country," Kang said. "We have strict rules and many schedules."
When Kang came to Tonganoxie last summer, it marked the first time he set foot on American soil, but he likely will return to the United States. In the fall, he plans to enroll at another high school. Once he has a high school diploma, He plans to attend Harvard or another Ivy League school.
For a career, Kang wants to enter politics. He also wants to earn a law degree in the process.
While in Tonganoxie, Kang has been adjusting to American food as well. South Korea also has several fast-food chains, but a lot of food he consumes back home can't be found in the U.S.
"We have diversity in food," Kang said. "There's no diversity in food in America I think."
Kang does, however, have a favorite local food, although it might be considered Italian.
"I like spaghetti," Kang said. "I'm not sure that is American food."
Kang hasn't been able to make Korean dishes in Tonganoxie because ingredients aren't readily available. But he has introduced friends to Korean music with a traditional Korean instrument he plays. He also educates them about his home country.
Unfortunately, some Americans have an inaccurate view of South Korea and Asia in general, Kang said.
Some locals think all of Asia is basically the same, but Kang disagrees.
"Each of us has our culture and history and definitely different languages and different food," Kang said. "Some Americans kind of think we live in some kind of jungle that is underdeveloped."
Kang hopes he has set some people straight regarding what his country and his region truly are all about.
"I like Americans, but I want Americans to learn about all of the world, the rest of the world," Kang said. "Because I think they are ignorant in some parts about the rest of the world."
Kansas is miles away from Rust's home city of about 250,000 people, but the 17-year-old has found a nearby town that reminds her of home.
"I like Lawrence a lot," Rust said. "It reminds of Dresden kind of, so I like that."
Rust played basketball and is on the softball team at THS this spring, but like Kang, in her school back home, sports are not part of the academic world. In Germany, Rust played tennis in a separate club after school.
Academically speaking, Rust thought schoolwork wasn't as challenging as assignments in Germany.
But, she said she really likes school dances in America, especially a Rive, a dance organized at school that is similar to a Rave dance.
The events come complete with a lot of techno dancing.
"It's funky, that's the right word for it," Rust said with a laugh.
In addition to basketball and softball, Rust also has been involved in school clubs such as the extreme ping-pong club and the foreign language club.
When it comes to food, Rust said the biggest difference between German and American types of food is bread. German bread, Rust said, is "more crunchy."
While living with the Bouza family, Rust has made schnitzel, a German dish of pork that is prepared in eggs and bread crumbs.
"It's really good," Rust said. "And you eat it with baked potatoes and peas."
Dresden is located in eastern Germany, once the communist region of the country before the Berlin Wall fell nearly 16 years ago.
Although there no longer is an East Germany and West Germany, Rust said there still is a difference between the two regions.
"Our industry is not that well-off," Rust said. "In the west, even our school system is kind of different. But you can't say it's worse, it's just different.
"There's still some people who are just like they think the east isn't as good as the west. It is not bad at all to live in the east. I enjoy it a lot."
When Rust returns to Germany, she'll be required to attend high school for two years. Eventually she would like to attend college and work for a company as an international trader.
"It doesn't matter what," Rust said. "I'd like automobiles or carpets, I don't care. Probably automobiles would be fun.
"I'd like to travel and use my English knowledge now."
Perhaps that will bring her back to Kansas.
"In America, I really enjoy that all the people are really friendly," Rust said. "You're welcome anywhere. And the people are helpful."
Coming from a country that recently overcame election fraud and massive corruption to elect a new president, Didukh has aspirations to one day be a politician in the Ukraine.
"It's one of my dreams," Didukh said. "That's what I will try to do. We will see how it will be."
The event was known as the Orange Revolution, which started late last year and ended earlier this year.
The election pitted prime minister Viktor Yanukowch against challenger Viktor Yushchenko. The revolution eventually put Yushchenko into office after three rounds of voting.
During the election, Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, which made him severely ill and disfigured his face.
Didukh said the Ukriane still was dealing with moving away from communism after the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991.
"We have a lot of people who can't adjust to the new way," Didukh said. "They still want to have communism. "It's really hard because they're the people who were on top when it was the Soviet Union. The big wigs."
With the Orange Revolution, Didukh said his country is heading in the right direction.
"Thanks to the Orange Revolution, it's become really good," Didukh said. "I'm proud of the nation.
"People went to the streets and protested. Now it's getting better. People believed in their rights."
Didukh is in Tonganoxie thanks to the Future Leader Exchange Program, also known as FLEX. As part of his requirements with the FLEX program, Didukh shadowed Tonganoxie Mayor Dave Taylor for a day and visited several locations in Leavenworth County and as well as the Kansas Speedway with Taylor. Didukh also attended a city council meeting.
In addition, Didukh was required to organize a charitable event while in Tonganoxie. Didukh organized drives at Tonganoxie High School and Victory Baptist Church for the local women's shelter.
Didukh's hometown has a population of roughly 300,000. Like the other two exchange students, Didukh had to adjust to a smaller town.
"It's real different," Didukh said. "Everybody knows everybody. Kind of weird."
While living in Tonganoxie, Didukh has found that teenagers are more independent than in the Ukraine.
"Here students become grown-ups earlier," Didukh said. "Age of 16 they drive they work. When I came here I had to learn to be more independent."
Didukh doesn't have the luxury of driving in the Ukraine yet. There, the driving age is 18.
In the United States, Didukh finds school to be less strict in the Ukraine. As for relationships between parents and children, Didukh thought that, overall, relations were better between families.
"They learn how to make their own decisions earlier," Didukh said about teens in America.
Staying in Tonganoxie also has introduced Didukh to holidays that aren't celebrated in the Ukraine, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving.
A tree and presents are prevalent at Christmas time in the Ukraine, but Ukrainians also celebrate St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 9. On that day, St. Nicholas brings presents and hides them in children's shoes. Instead of Santa Claus, Ukrainians have Father Frost.
When it comes to food, Didukh said Americans consume more fast food than Ukrainians.
"Every foreign student who comes here gains pounds and pounds," Didukh said. "I'm practicing karate here, playing soccer, playing baseball and still I gain weight."
Like Rust, Didukh found American bread to be vastly different.
Didukh has prepared a Ukrainian dish while living in Tonganoxie -- borsch. The dish actually is a soup with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and pork.
"It's really good," Didukh said.
He made another dish that includes eggs, almonds and raisins.
In the Ukraine, salo is another popular food. Salo is pig's fat that is prepared with salt and garlic and served on bread.
"It's hard to believe, I know," Didukh said. "Everybody says that's probably disgusting."
But Didukh has discovered some American food that he likes.
American pies -- pecan and cherry, to name a couple -- top his list of favorite foods here. Homemade chocolate chip cookies also "are really good."
The Ukraine has fast food such as Burger King and McDonald's, but not Subway, a restaurant here he prefers.
Getting acquainted with life in Tonganoxie wouldn't have been possible without his host parents.
"They treat me like a real son," Didukh said of the Kampfers. "I call them Mom and Dad. They keep me busy all the time.
"I feel myself like I'm at home. They do all their best. I do like living with my host family."
When Didukh returns to the Ukraine next Wednesday, he hopes to take ideas from America and share them in his native country.
He hopes he can use his new-found knowledge of local and national government and implement it in the Ukraine -- especially one day as a politician himself.
"I would like to be in government to make changes to improve society all I can," Didukh said. "That's my aim, to be a leader."