Foreign exchange students learning about life in Maricopa

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They arrived in Arizona from five different countries and three separate continents, eager to experience academia and social life at an American high school.

Trang Nguyen, Sorawit Thumniam, Raphael Dantas, Giacomo Ghigo and Mengli Yang have traveled from their home countries to the Valley of the Sun, where they are spending the 2010-11 academic year as foreign-exchange students at Maricopa High School.

“I want to learn the American way of life, because it sounds awesome, and it really is,” said Dantas, a senior from Brazil.

Lynn Hoang, a math teacher at Maricopa High School, is serving as host for Nguyen, a senior from Vietnam. Hoang said the foreign-exchange experience is beneficial for the host families as well as the visiting students.

“It is fun having an extra member of the house,” Hoang said. “My kids (8-year-old twin sons and 3-year-old daughter) look up to her like an older sister.”

Geoff and Lizzie Hawn are serving as the host family for Thumniam, who is from Thailand.

“When you have a foreign-exchange student in your home, it is like bringing a country into your home,” Lizzie Hawn said. “We have been able to experience Thai food and Thai culture right here in our home. It has been fun.”

Jim Irving, a retired teacher and administrator who works as a volunteer in the Maricopa High School guidance department, said the student population and the foreign-exchange visitors gain knowledge from each other about their respective cultures.

“For a lot of the students, just to hear about the other countries is a learning experience,” Irving said. “We learn a lot from them, and they learn a lot from our students.”

Profiles of Maricopa’s five foreign-exchange students for 2010-11 will appear on InMaricopa.com in the next few weeks.

Photo: (left to right) Sorawit Thumniam, Raphael Dantes, Giacomo Ghigo and Trang Nguyen (not pictured is Mengli Yang)

Photo by Tom Kessler