Exchange students bring cultures to Centre

Staff writer

Three exchange students attended Centre High School this year. They brought exposure to a variety of cultures.

Sueleha Mustafa

Sueleha “Sara” Mustafa, 17, is from Karachi, Pakistan, the 10th largest city in the world.

Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country in the world. Mustafa sees her role in America as being an ambassador for the Islamic republic.

“It’s a responsibility to share that we are not bad people and that we are not terrorists,” she said. “You see only the bad side in the media, but we want peace just like you.”

She said Pakistan is culturally diverse. There are 50 different languages, but English is taught in schools.

Mustafa came to America on a scholarship, one of 110 chosen to study abroad out of thousands of applicants. Her hosts are Marcus and Peggy Carlson of rural Lincolnville.

She is enrolled as a junior but already is a high school graduate in Pakistan, where secondary education goes through 10th grade.

She arrived two weeks late and didn’t know what to expect.

“My host family was sweet and helpful,” she said. “They are experienced because I am their 11th exchange student.”

She also is thankful for the help she received from Centre teachers and students.

One of the major differences she has experienced is the need to drive to get anywhere. In Pakistan, she walked everywhere.

Her all-girls school provided eight hours of instruction a day.

Her father is a disabled accountant who receives support from the private company for which he worked. Her mother makes and sells jewelry. She has two younger brothers.

Mustafa can only eat “halal” or blessed meat, so the Carlson’s go with her to the Islamic Center in Wichita to buy meat for her.

She plans to attend college after she returns to Pakistan this spring.

“I’m excited to go home, but I’m going to miss my host family and my school and my friends,” she said.

Olesya Opanasyuk

Olesya Opanasyuk comes from a “town” of 20,000 people in far southeast Russia on the coast of the Sea of Japan. It is a suburb of a larger port city of 150,000. She said it is a scenic place with mountains on several sides and the ocean on the other. Her city is nine hours by plane from Moscow.

Opanasyuk came to America on a scholarship and was excited to see how Americans live. She thought Kansas would be hot, so she just brought warm-season clothes.

She lives with Duane and Karen Carlson and regards their daughter, Carrie, as her half-sister.

Coming to rural Kansas was not a complete shock. Her grandmother lives in a small town. She helps her grandmother maintain a garden in the summertime.

In Russia, she said, people walk a lot more even though they have cars and public transportation.

Opanasyuk said she likes that American students have elective subjects. She said in Russia, there is a fixed curriculum of 15 subjects.

“I just like American schools,” she said. “I like the extra-curricular activities. Everybody is more laid back, and it’s more relaxing. As I see it, there is no dress code here.

“I knew a lot of people by the end of my first day. Centre is like a big family where everybody is related. I like the cozy atmosphere. Students and teachers are close and can share their lives.”

She said the junior/senior prom was a “cool” experience. She and 11 other exchange students in the area meet once a month for various activities. They went to New York in April.

Opanasyuk said she was born in 1995, four years after the Soviet Union fell. She said it produced an economic crisis for a time, and crime went up. The situation got better after the 1990s, she said.

Both of her parents are computer programmers. Her sister is in fourth grade.

Opanasyuk will graduate Sunday with the Class of ’13 at Centre but will take one more year of high school when she returns to Russia. She plans to go on to college.

Bence Pataky

Coming from a European country, 17-year-old Bence Pataky of Hungary said he fit right in here in America.

His biggest change was coming from Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, to the town of Burdick, where hosts Phil and Jamie Peterson live.

“I like it here,” he said. “It’s a lot calmer, not as noisy, and not as busy. Everybody is open and friendly.”

Hungary, a democratic republic since 1989, is a developed country with a high-income economy. Pataky’s parents paid his way to America. His father owns a business, and his mother is a dental assistant. He has a 20-year-old sister who spent a year in Wisconsin, and a 12-year-old brother.

Pataky is a junior at Centre. He played football this year for the first time. He said the coach and players were “awesome” and were eager to help him learn the game. He also played basketball, a game he played in Hungary.

Learning about animals and experiencing the rural way of life are new things he enjoyed.

“I had a good time here,” he said. “It’s like home. My hosts are the best. It will be hard for me to leave. I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but I am going to miss my new family and friends.”

Pataky has to retake his junior year when he returns to Hungary. He plans to attend college after graduating from high school.

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