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West Linn High School hots three exchange students

Some might say the demographics at West Linn High School are not very diverse, but they are not looking close enough.

This year, three foreign exchange students from around the globe are attending the school.

Junior Faisal Irfan is from Lahore, Pakistan; senior Siri Westermark is visiting from Stockholm, Sweden; and junior Keisuke Murakami lives in Tochigi, Japan. All three, however, are making home here in West Linn for the 2011-12 school year.

The students' reasons for coming to America this year are as varied as their cultures.

Irfan heard of the exchange program through an adviser at his school and qualified for a scholarship.

For Westermark, it has been a goal of hers to visit the United States since she was 8 years old. Her godmother and her cousin had similar experiences and passed along the travel bug. Last summer, her family vacationed in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and traveled through the Hopi and Navajo countryside.

'That only made me want to go more,' she said. 'I convinced my parents last year to let me go.'

Murakami has a different dream. He wants to become a missionary and preach. So, he came to America this year to practice his English.

Part of Irfan's reason for coming to American is to break stereotypes and teach the community about Pakistan, its culture and its people.

Irfan said Americans think all people in Pakistan are terrorists who are uneducated. And, Pakistanis think Americans are 'really rich and party all the time.'

The stereotype of Americans differs slightly across the world. In Sweden, Americans are viewed as fat, but polite and open, according to Westermark. And in Japan, they believe Americans love money, Murakami said.

However, those stereotypes are breaking down. The students are sharing their culture with their host families and with new friends at school. And, their opinion of America is changing too.

All three students agreed the people in West Linn are very friendly, even strangers on the bus and cashiers at stores.

'People here are so much more polite than in Sweden,' Westermark said.

'I have made many good friends,' Murakami said. 'Many American people are funny, goofy. They like joking. That's the American culture.'

As for school, the exchange students are loving it. Irfan attends a British school in his hometown of Lahore, which he said is similar to American schools. However, it is vastly different than Pakistan public schools, where there are no electives and not a lot of extracurricular activities.

In Stockholm, Westermark explained, high schools are similar to U.S. colleges, where students have to get good grades and apply to a high school and pick a program of study. The downside is, 'We don't have the school spirit you do,' she said.

In fact, this year abroad will not even count toward Westermark's education and she will still have two years of high school left when she returns.

Murakami said Japanese schools are much more strict.

'Here, I'm getting freedom,' he said.

Their favorite classes so far? Web design and physics for Irfan; core sports and English for Westermark; and Japanese and dance for Murakami.

The students have also been exploring Portland, the mountain, the beach and even the desert region of Oregon and getting a feel for the variety of climates in the state.

Besides learning about America and its culture, the students want to share their homeland favorites.

Irfan loves cricket, field hockey and soccer.

Westermark wants to share her country's culture and traditions as well as their government.

'Some people think we're communists; we're not communists,' she joked.

Murakami wants to share his love of Japanese food, religion and Kendo, a traditional style of fencing.

Although Westermark said she is too busy to be miss home, both Irfan and Murakami admit to homesickness.

'I still miss home, my family, my friends, my school,' Murakami said.

'This is an adventure, and I like that,' Westermark said.