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Students cross oceans to attend classes at UCHS

Three new faces are brightening the halls of Unicoi County High School this year–and they all left their homes and crossed an ocean to get here.
Sixteen-year-old Antonia Mayer, a native of Hamburg, Germany, 15 year-old Nutsupa “Mai” Patamaphan, a native of Bangkok, Thialand, and 16 year-old Seline Koch, a native of Celle, Germany are all foreign exchange students staying in homes in Unicoi County.
Antonia said she wanted to become an exchange student to experience something new and decided to come to the United States to improve her English.
“I am always open to new things,” she said, “and I wanted to explore different cultures and bring part of Germany to where I travel. Because English is the most important language in the world and America is the largest English speaking country and I wanted to explore the American culture.”
Antonia researched exchange companies and found ISKA, based out of Germany. She then had to complete an application process to ISKA. Once accepted ICES, another exchange company, based in the U.S. finds a family that would be the best match for Antonia. That is when they found Melissa and Alissa Peterson of Erwin.
Melissa works at Unicoi County Middle School, and Alissa is a senior at Unicoi County High School. Antonia believes she was “chosen for the Petersons because Alissa and I share many interests like fashion, and dance.”
Antonia noted that she is constantly asked about her first impression of The United States. Antonia said she always answers the same way.
“It’s like the movies. The people, the houses and the school are so much different in a good way,” she said. “People here are quite different than in Germany. Americans are more open-minded, polite, and friendly.”
While the first day of school for most students entails a long process to get everything ready, Antonia said she arrived in Tri-Cites airport the night before school started. Instead of going straight to bed to get ready for a long day at school, Mayer went out to eat with the Petersons at a Mexican restaurant. After dinner, they came back to Erwin and went to bed.
The next morning Melissa, Alissa, and Antonia got ready for the first day of school, which for Antonia, turned out to be quite eventful.
“The first day of school was very exciting, because I was sent home because I had a hole in pants,” she said but noted her classmates were excited to meet her. “I was so surprised that the other students were so open and friendly to me.”
In Germany, Antonia had the opportunity to watch American shows so she could have a glimpse of American fashion. Two of her favorites are America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway.
“(In Germany) Wednesday is like American Day on TV,” she said. “They show all American shows.”
Another question Antonia gets a lot pertains to the differences between the boys in America and those in Germany. Antonia says that American boys are certainly different.
“They are different here than they are in Germany, so at first I had to get used to it,” she said. “Sometimes they are the same like in Germany, but here they are friendlier and more open minded and they mean what they say.”
Traveling the furthest distance is “Mai,” who flew all the way from Thialand. Mai lives with Donnette, Steve, Aspen, and Cheyenne Hahn of Erwin. Aspen is a Junior at Unicoi County High School, and Cheyenne is an eighth grader at UCMS.
Mai wanted to come to Erwin because her sister came to Erwin as a foreign exchange student two years ago, and she wanted to do the same.
“I like the Mountains,” she said. “I love the Hahn family, I like living here.”
Mai will attend UCHS all of this school year and return back to Thailand in June. However, Mai says that so far, she isn’t exactly homesick.
“In Thailand we study more, we don’t get as many breaks like here,” she said. “ Also on our breaks, we have to study. I like the school, I like the teachers, and everyone is just so nice.”
Also from Germany is Seline, who lives with Joan, Mike, and Michaela Platt of Erwin. Michaela is a Sophomore at University High School in Johnson City, while Seline attends UCHS.
Seline said that after leaving her home in Germany, she is enjoying her stay in Unicoi County.
“I love it a lot,” she said. “I’m happy to stay here with my host family and the people are very friendly and lovely.”
School in Germany and in the United States is much different, but Seline enjoys school at Unicoi County High School.
“Its much more fun than a typical German school,” she said. “Teachers are more interested in you and very nice to students.”
Compared to people in her hometown of Celle, Seline believes people in Erwin are “more open-hearted.” She added that the males at UCHS have been a prime example of being open hearted. Seline described them as “very nice.”
Seline is also enjoying living with the Platts.
“I love my host family very much, especially Michaela,” she said. “I am thankful for my friends, Forrest Bullen, and Nick Meadows.”
All three foreign exchange students will be living with their host families for the remainder of the school year. They will return to their home countries in June of 2011.