PARIS – If there’s one thing that four exchange students will remember about America . . . make that a lot of things. A lot of BIG things.

Sitting in the sunlit living room on Thursday of one of the host families, Curtis and Terry Cole of Paris, the students said they never expected so many things about America to be so, well, big.

Big trees, big animals, big homes, big pizzas and ice cream cones. And they’re loving it.

Rie Nishida from Japan, 17; Housni Pitsuwan from Thailand, 18; Rosemarie E. Ampuan from the Phillipines, 17; and Florence Isabel Wild from Germany, 17, arrived in the country as exchange students last August and will head back home at the end of the school year.

They are living with area host families and attending Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

They miss their families and friends, but all of them said they have mixed feelings about leaving America.

“You feel like you have two homes,” said Wild, one of three American Field Service students. Nishida’s trip is sponsored by the Oxford Hills Rotary Club, where Curtis Cole is a member.

Mainers have been generous and friendly and they’ve enjoyed sampling new dishes like chicken parmigiana. They’ve visited other parts of New England as well as Canada and New York City.

With American music, movies and culture so widespread around the world, the teens said they had some impressions about what to expect.

But there have been some adjustments, such as questions from American students about whether they have electricity in their overseas homes and not having easy access to public transportation. “You have to drive everywhere,” said Nishida.

And the four teenagers who all live in urban areas back home are amazed at the trust among residents of small communities. “Nobody locks the door,” said Nishida, her eyes wide. Ampuan said she sometimes has difficulty falling asleep at night “because it’s so quiet.”

“I’m used to construction,” she said.

The array of choices at school also has been a surprise. In their home countries, math is math and science is science. They didn’t expect to choose among physics, chemistry, biology, geometry and calculus.

And they didn’t anticipate all the extracurricular activities, of which they have taken full advantage. Drama, Nordic skiing, cross-country running, soccer and lacrosse is a sample of what they’ve been doing.

No wonder Terry Cole, who is hosting Nishida, said the experience has taken a lot of time and energy. But she and her husband, who are “empty nesters” with four grown children, wouldn’t trade it.

“It has been great,” she said. “It has been a really good experience.”

The teens have passed along some of their culture, particularly in the kitchen. Pitsuwan has cooked Thai dishes for his host family, James and Lynn Hamper of Oxford, as well as friends and coaches. The culinary creations have included green curry with chicken and omelets with fish sauce.

Nishida has prepared sushi and miso soup, and Ampuan cooked adobo, a chicken dish with vinegar and soy sauce, for her host family, Normand and Deb David of Otisfield.

“I don’t really cook,” said Wild, but she did bring German music and books to her host family, David and Eileen Heidrich of Oxford.

Pitsuwan’s father attended Harvard University, and Pitsuwan said he would also like to attend college in the United States. “I like the openness (of Americans),” he said, adding that American kids leave their parents much sooner than people in Thailand.

“In Thailand, we stay together until we get married,” he said.

Ampuan, however, is looking a bit further ahead than college when she thinks about returning to America. “It’s a good place to grow old,” she said.



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