Thousands of miles from home Alena Stassen and Fran Rioja participated in the Rotary Club’s exchange student program and completed their senior year of high school in a foreign land: America.
Both attended Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, guests of the Rotary Club of El Dorado Hills.
Fran, 17, knew how to speak English before coming to America, making the transition more smooth, and he said his favorite experience has been making friends.
“I’m really open,” the 17-year-old from Barcelona said, adding that his time in America has been a very valuable experience, though he misses his family, friends and the food at home. “The time difference made it hard to keep up with friends (in Spain),” he explained.
Fran has enjoyed his emergence into American culture. “I love In-N-Out!” he exclaimed, when asked what new experience stood out to him the most. At school Fran said his American government class interested him the most and, in his spare time, he played indoor soccer with his new friends.
If he had more time Fran said he would like to go boating, visit Southern California, and hang out with his American friends. “I prefer being here,” he confessed. “It’s like a whole new world.”
Fran plans to continue to study international relations and law in Spain next year.
Alena, 17, came from Germany and said she enjoyed the chance to be able to do so much in America and was impressed by the “school spirit” she observed at Oak Ridge, where she played volleyball for the varsity team. Her favorite class was 3-D design and she said she loved practicing her English in all her classes.
Because of the structure of education in Germany, this year abroad does not count toward Alena’s high school credits; she will have to complete two more years on her return but said the experience was worth it. Her favorite memories are of all the friends she made, and Alena even tried to delay her May 22 flight home to spend more time in America.
Alena enjoyed visiting San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. She was also able to tour the East Coast with other foreign exchange students for two weeks. If she had more time Alena said she’d visit Disneyland and San Diego and go to more beaches.
Joining in on Fran’s praise of In-N-Out, Alena said she hopes to lose the weight she gained from eating all the new and different foods. She looks forward to spending time with her family and friends as soon as she gets home. They might notice a big change.
“This experience changed my life,” Alena said. “When I came here I was shy and now I talk and can stand up and speak for myself.”