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MHS exchange students view culture


   Three exchange students from metropolitan areas arrived in small town Madras last fall to begin attending Madras High School.
   Erlend Birketvedt, 17, comes from Oslo, Norway, a city of 550,000, where his father is a psychologist and his mother is a nurse. His family also includes two older brothers.
   "Madras is different. People are more into gossip, but what goes around, comes around," Erlend remarked, adding, "You live in such a multicultural, little society, it's different."
   He said he decided to sign up for an exchange program because, "I wanted to get out of the little nutshell in Norway, get out in the world and meet new people."
   But he didn't exactly choose Madras. "I wanted to go to Panama and go surfing, but I got sent to Oregon," he related.
   In school, he is now on the White Buffalo staff and writing a column about his experiences as an exchange student. He will also be playing tennis this spring.
   Erlend has studied English since the second grade and even knows American slang phrases. His host parents in Madras are Betty and Trini Ortiz.
   His favorite experience since being here was being able to do volunteer work at Custom Computer Concepts. "It was really great. Back home I always worked with computers too," he said.
   When he returns to Norway wants to return to school to study computers. "Then I'll start to save money for a car and driver's license," he said.
   Maria B³gelund, 17, is from Copenhagen, Denmark, a city of 1 million. In Madras her host parents are Sue and Phil Smith.
   "When I first got here I thought, Madras is really small. But it's OK. I got used to it pretty fast and you don't think about it once you get to know people.
   Her parents are both pharmacists in Denmark, and her sister, Elizabeth, 14, is currently in Madras to visit over spring break.
   "Elizabeth came over spring break so she could go with us to Las Vegas, L.A., Hollywood and Salt Lake City," Maria said, noting the Smith's took her (Maria) to see Utah and Idaho right after she arrived.
   Maria has done a lot of other traveling as a member of the MHS soccer and JV basketball teams, and is doing track now. "I've never played basketball before in my life and it was fun," she commented.
   Differences she has seen in our culture include religion. "Everybody goes to church every Sunday and goes to youth group. I'm not used to that at all. In Denmark, most people only go to church once a year," she said.
   Food is another big difference. "There's fat in everything, and cheese and butter on everything over here," she observed, adding, "I like Italian food from the Olive Garden."
   Maria said she wanted to do an exchange to see another country and meet people. "I studied English, but we had really bad teachers, so I was really quiet at first when I came. I was afraid I would say something wrong. Now I don't care, and people just have to live with it," she laughed.
   When she returns home she will attend "gymnasium" (between high school and college). "Then I want to travel around the world with my best friend -- that's just a plan," she admitted. "After that, I don't know what I'll do -- something fun."
   Sixteen-year-old Francisco Rullan, nicknamed "Paco," is from Villahermosa, Mexico, a city of over 500,000, and is a Rotary Exchange Student, sponsored by Rotary Club International.
   Paco, who was wearing the new MHS letterman's jacket he bought, said he will be speaking at the Madras Rotary Club next week. When he returns to Mexico, he will also speak to clubs there about his experiences.
   His mother used to be a kindergarten principal, but now is a homemaker, and his dad works for the state government. He has a 13-year-old sister.
   "Madras was a lot different at first. It's small, cold, dry and there is snow. Where I live the climate is tropical," Paco said.
   For a wide range of experiences, Rotary students have four host families during their exchange. He has stayed with Chuck and Linda Anderson, Bill and Jan Vollmer, is now with Pedro and Beatriz Rios, then will stay with Chris and Pam Scranton.
   He said he went on an exchange because, he wanted "to see places, cultures, to make better my English, meet people, and see what's it's like to live away from my family." Although there are many Spanish-speaking students at MHS, Paco said he tries not to speak Spanish "because I'm trying to learn English."
   He's only seen a few differences between American and Mexican teens. One is that they watch a lot more soccer on TV in Mexico. At MHS he played soccer and is doing track and field sports now.
   He also remarked, "In Mexico people are more close. Here, if you don't know somebody, you don't talk with him."
   Paco's favorite thing has been the traveling he's gotten to do, especially the trip to Colorado with his host family over Christmas vacation.
   He traveled a lot with his own family before becoming an exchange student and so far has been to, Florida, Texas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and several cities in Oregon. "I love to travel," he admitted.
   The food has been pretty much the same, he commented. "All the American foods, we have in Mexico. But the first time I ever ate a burrito was here, we don't have them in Mexico, and the tacos are different," Paco said.