International Exchange Students Learn Texan at Elkhart High School

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

ELKHART –  This year several international exchange students are hosted by local families and studying at schools in our area. 

Two of those are currently attending Elkhart High School. They sat down with the Messenger to tell how they have coped with the Texas heat, Texas accents and the other culture shocks during their first few days in our area. 

Both young ladies chose to come to America to improve their English. Although they do have slight accents, they both speak the language very well and communicated very fluently. 

Ursula Pinillas Garcia is a sophomore and hails from the city of Leon, Spain. She arrived barely a week ago and is staying with a family in Palestine. At home, she enjoys gymnastics and skiing. 

“I like chemistry and history at home,” Pinillas Garcia said. “The biggest difference was the weather. It was so hot when I arrived here! And everything here is so big! Without a car you cannot go anywhere! Even the food is bigger.”

Pinillas Garcia said so far she likes the food, although in Spain they eat healthier and not so much junk food. She noted changing classes at Elkhart High School was another surprise. 

“The classes are very similar,” Pinillas Garcia explained. “I feel comfortable here. In Spain we had all our subjects in the same class. Here, you have to change classes. It is good, but different.”

Pinillas Garcia said she appreciated her host family with whom she will live until next May and the end of the school year. 

“I get along so well with them,” Pinillas Garcia said. “They are so nice and they try to do everything to make me feel comfortable.”

“I didn’t choose Texas specifically, but I wanted to come to America. I really wanted to learn better English and get to know a new culture and a new people – to make new friends.”

Pauline Ciardi is also a sophomore but will transfer to be a junior next semester. She comes from the southern part of Sweden. Her school in Sweden was about the size of Elkhart High School. At home she enjoyed figure skating and playing the violin. 

The local grocery stores and our summer weather have already made an impact on Ciardi. 

“There are a lot more options here,” Ciardi said. “In the grocery store there are 10,000 different things to choose from. I live in a bigger town than Elkhart, but we do not have such big grocery stores with so many different products. And the heat. It’s really, really hot here.”

Ciardi is currently living with a host family in Elkhart.  She also had to get used to changing classes and hearing the bell during the day. 

Both young women have struggled a little with our Texas drawl. 

“The first days it was so difficult to understand what people were saying,” Ciardi remembered. “I know the word ‘y’all’ now. But it’s nice to meet new people and learn about other cultures.”

Ciardi has a birthday coming next month: “I will celebrate my sweet 16 in America!”

The two have become friends as they navigate the high school, local cuisine and the Texas twang that swirls around them. Neither has yet tried a local chicken fried steak. That may improve their understanding of the locals. 

The two have big plans for their futures. 

“I want to go to the University of Lund in Sweden,” Ciardi explained. “I want to study one of the sciences there.”

Pinillas Garcia also plans to continue studying science: “I want to be a doctor.”

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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