EXETER — The Wyoming Region School District has always accepted one international student per year, but the 2021-2022 school year was a little different. This year, the Wyoming region has three students from Taiwan, Italy and Spain.
Students are sponsored by International Student Exchange (ISE) and are managed by Area Director Bonnie Witkosky of Wilkes-Barre. Witkosky has worked for ISE for 12 years, overseeing Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.
Hsuan-yi (Eason) Chu, from Miaoli City, Taiwan; Claudia Papa, from Palermo, Italy; and Gabriela (Gabi) Almendro Mirat, from Madrid, Spain, will soon be completing their studies in the Wyoming area shortly after graduation. Their 10-month visas will expire and all three will return to their home countries as modified persons.
All three are fluent in multiple languages and received high honors while studying in the Wyoming area, according to Witkosky. In addition to schooling, each student was required to complete 10 hours of community volunteering during their stay.
Eason Hsuan-yi — Taiwan
Hsuan-yi, 16 and the youngest of three exchange students, is a 10th grader in Wyoming Area. Before reaching America, Hsuan-yi set goals while doing her exchange program. He wanted to experience baseball, basketball, biking, family activities, skiing or snowboarding and swimming and Witkosky said she thought he had achieved all of his goals.
“I wanted to learn about different cultures,” Hsuan-yi said, explaining why he chose to school in the United States. “In America there are different races of people and in Taiwan you can only find Asians.”
Hsuan-yi chose to enter the exchange program earlier as a tenth-grade student, unlike Papa and Mirat, who are currently studying as senior class members.
“I didn’t want to wait until after 11th grade to come to America,” Hsuan-yi said. “Tenth grade is starting high school in Taiwan, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to my friends, and when I come back, I will have different friends in high school, that’s why I chose 10th grade.”
Each student stays with a host family for the duration of the 10-month stay. Hsuan-yi stayed with the Melissa and Josh Boub family from Wyoming.
The Boubs hosted exchange students before including Claudia Papa’s older sister, Roberta, a few years ago.
Hsuan-yi said he was looking forward to returning to the United States after finishing his studies.
His future goal is to become a dentist or an engineer, something he will settle with plenty of schooling left in his high school and college careers.
Claudia Papa — Italy
Dad is a senior at Wyoming Area and will be graduating with the senior class on June 13.
While here, she was heavily involved in her studies, was a member of the reunion court last fall, played on the school volleyball team, and was active in the theater by playing a role in the high school play, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Dad, 17, was also a student at Leadership Northeast under his foster mom, Lori Nocito.
As far back as she can remember, Dad remembers wanting to go to America.
“Since I was five, I’ve always dreamed of living in the United States and wanted to live in New York, and it’s still my dream,” Dad said. “I chose the United States because I wanted to experience it first (hand) and my sister was also here, so I kind of did what she did. I realized what a good experience it was for her.
Dad’s dream will be put on hold for a few years before she can go to college; she has to repeat her last year of high school in Italy.
“I hope to return to the United States after college.” Dad added. “I would like to be a businesswoman in New York, that’s my goal even if I don’t know exactly what I want to do in between.”
Gabriella Almendro Mirat – Spain
Mirat, who turns 18 next month, is also a senior and no stranger to the student exchange program. His mother was also an exchange student in his youth and currently, Mirat’s twin brother and younger brother are studying in Kansas State.
“In Spain, a lot of people go to America as exchange students,” Mirat said. “My mother was an exchange student. All my friends who have been here had a great experience so I decided to go.”
Before coming to America, Mirat said she studied northeastern Pennsylvania, the Wyoming area school district and her host family.
While in the United States, Mirat, like his counterparts, wanted to absorb as much American culture and experience as possible. She was also on the reunion field last fall and played on volleyball and cross-country teams.
Mirat will start university in the fall of 2022 in Spain, although she has been accepted to King’s College, Wilkes University and the University of Scranton.
According to Witkosky, Mirat’s tuition for all three colleges would be three times higher for an international student, making it unaffordable for Mirat to attend college in the United States.
Dad said college in Italy, like in Spain, is free except for taxes and other fees.
Mirat’s career goal is to become a plastic surgeon.
Wyoming Area Experiences
Each student said their English had improved significantly in the nine months since arriving in the United States. Witkosky said Hsuan-yi’s improvement in English had been the most dramatic of the trio.
Mirat said that initially she struggled with the long sentences and the order of the words in each sentence.
All three said most people spoke to them slowly when they arrived, which they all found amusing.
Hsuan-yi said her biggest problem was with science labs and finding partners for experiments and labs was difficult.
The three students agree that over time, they have become more familiar with the studies, made friends, have become accustomed to the culture and to their host families.
Each student’s families, along with Area Director Witkosky, took the students on sightseeing trips to New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and even Florida, as well as Dorney Park, Allentown, and Knoebel’s Park, Elysburg.
Playing sports and fitting in with American counterparts has been enlightening and a joy for every student living in the Wyoming area.
Dad said there were no clubs in Italian schools and one of his favorite experiences was participating in the school play.
Hsuan-yi said he was fascinated by hair color and the variety of colors, especially with the girls at school noting that the only hair color you see in Taiwan is black.
A lasting memory for Hsuan-yi was attending the school semi-formal.
“Last week was Semi (formal) and I had two dates,” Hsuan-yi laughed. “We never have parties in Taiwan, it’s too expensive.”
Hsuan-yi, Mirat and Papa all agree that they had great host families, which was very important to them.
“I was nervous before coming here and after I arrived I felt like I was in my real family,” Hsuan-yi said of her foster family. “I will be a bit sad when I have to leave.”
“I love them,” Mirat said of the Duffys, her foster family. “I have a good relationship with them and I have a lot of fun with them and they are so funny. Their grandma lives close by and is funny too.
Dad was okay with his foster family, Lori and Frank Nocito.
“I don’t like my foster family,” Dad joked. “No, I love them, we have such a wonderful relationship and they really feel like family and that’s one of the reasons I cry when I think about leaving them. I know when I’m coming back when I want and the door will always be open for me. I can’t imagine my life without them and it’s hard to even think about it.
The three students will face challenges with exams on subjects they studied in the Wyoming area when they return home.
The Mirat courses studied here will be transferred, but not those of Papa and Hsuan-yi.
The three students will miss their time in Greater Pittston, their fellow students and their host families when they return to their prospective homes.
“I cry every time I think about it,” Mirat said as he left America. “It’s so sad because I’m used to living here with my host family and I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get home. I will miss my whole life here and I will have to adapt again to my friends in Spain.
Mirat went on to say, “I want to go back to see my dog and my friends and my family, but I don’t want to go back either because I want to stay with my foster family and my friends, it’s hard.”
Hsuan-yi said her feelings were a bit different from those of her exchange student peers.
“I don’t feel like them (Papa and Mirat),” Hsuan-yi said. “I’m sad to leave but not so sad because I will do different things in the future.”
“It’s hard when you’re building a new life and now is the time when you get used to everything and your host family feels like family life and your friends feel like best friends and hang out with them every day. days and all of a sudden you have to leave, Dad said. “Even if I come back, it will be different, everything will be different.”
Witkosky said she never accompanied students to the airport when they returned to their home countries because it was a sad occasion.
International Student Exchange Program
Witkosky said she is always interested in finding host families for future exchange students.
If anyone is interested in hosting a student, you can contact her at 570-417-3418 or email her at [email protected]
To learn more about the student exchange program, set your browser to iseusa.org.