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Santa Barbara a Home Away from Home for Rising Number of International Students
International students are commonplace in Santa Barbara, but they’re showing up in larger numbers at local high schools.
With the arrival of another agency, Educatius International, this year, the Santa Barbara Unified School District is hosting 38 foreign students for the 2012-13 year, according to district communications director Barbara Keyani.
Educatius International, a Kansas-based organization with worldwide offices, came to the Central Coast in August and helped students find host families and classes at Dos Pueblos, Santa Barbara and San Marcos high schools.
This year, the Santa Barbara district welcomed students from Austria, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Sweden.
Local coordinator Elsie Bahia has 16 students this year, including some who stayed for one semester and some who are here for the entire school year. She said she expects more next year since Santa Barbara is a hot spot for exchange programs such as this. The districts tell them how many of these students can be admitted for each school year, Bahia said.
The district deals directly with several agencies and individual families and charges $12,360 in tuition for a year and $6,180 for a semester, Keyani said. Including fees to the program agencies and money given to host families, students’ families can pay around $30,000 for a year through Educatius International, Bahia said.
It can be more difficult to find host families for high school students, since they must be more involved than those providing rooms and food to college-aged students, she said.
“Most don’t want to have the extra responsibility of hosting high school students,” she said. “You have to treat them like your own teenagers — monitor their grades, make sure they’re staying within a C-average, help them with their homework if they need help or if they want your help, get them registered when they arrive, keep in touch with teachers to see how they’re doing, and be involved pretty much like it’s your own kid.”
Bahia meets with the students and checks in with them regularly, as well as writing reports to send to their parents back home. Of course, students and their families communicate often over email, Skype or phone, she added.
Veronica Larinan and her family have been hosting international students all year long, with a young woman from Italy the first semester and a young woman from Brazil since late January.
“It was something that my husband, Randy, suggested after our son went off to college,” Larinan said. “I did not want to do it. I didn’t want to share my home — I was fearful of what could happen.”
However, her family was approached by Bahia and decided to try it.
“You can’t do this for the money; you have to do this as an experiment or experience or whatever you want to call it,” she said. “It’s not much, but it feels good to do something like this.”
Vittoria, a 16-year-old, came at the beginning of the year and attended San Marcos High School.
“She was very, very loving and very supportive,” Larinan said. “She is a great student and spoke four languages. At home in Italy, she goes to a private school that just deals with languages.
“I was really scared because I’d heard the stories, even within the group she came in, with others wanting to go home because they thought they’d have a servant or someone to drive them around. Vittoria just wanted to live in a different culture and see how it’s done, be a part of it and be able to tell her kids about it. She was very mature for her age.”
Larinan came to the United States 19 years ago and had a hard time getting used to the different culture as an African-American in Santa Barbara, so she could understand better than most when Vittoria had the same problem.
“On the second day for some reason she just started crying, and I said, ‘You’ll be having more days like those; it doesn’t just go away,’” Larinan said.
Vittoria went out for San Marcos’ basketball team and hurt her foot in the first few weeks. Even though she had to use a wheelchair for months, she stuck it out, despite encouragement to go back home. She wanted to see if she could be independent enough to leave her parents for college.
Vittoria made fast friends who took her — wheelchair and all — downtown and to Los Angeles for fun, and she went to every basketball team meeting and practice even though she couldn’t play.
Vittoria celebrated her 17th birthday and Christmas with the Larinans and was treated like one of their own children — even making it into their annual Christmas card.
“We treated her like we would want our own kids to be treated at somebody else’s house,” Larinan said. “She formed a tight bond with us and was very affectionate; she called us mom and dad.”
She was also close with their 14-year-old daughter, Cheyanne, who is a freshman at San Marcos High School.
It was hard when Vittoria left. Larinan was worried about her foot, but was glad to know she would have care overseen by her parents and personal doctor once she got home to Italy. She’s already emailed them to say she misses them all, and misses everything about Santa Barbara, Larinan said.
Ana, a 17-year-old from Brazil, arrived two weeks ago and is a senior at Dos Pueblos High School. Her time here overlapped by a week with Vittoria’s, so she got a firsthand tutorial of what to expect at school, Larinan said.
“It looks like we’re going to have a good one again,” she said.
William, an exchange student from Sweden, is a 17-year-old Dos Pueblos junior. He’s living with a host family in Goleta and is enjoying the weather, new friends and perfecting his English.
“I’ve been here for five months now and it feels like a second home,” he said.
His parents were sad to have him leave for so long, but were supportive of his decision to come to Santa Barbara. William’s brother came to visit a few weeks ago, too.
“I wanted to experience something different,” William said. “I pretty much lived in the same city, the same society and with the same type of people my whole life, and I wanted to see something new and go on an adventure.
“I wanted to improve my English since it’s so useful nowadays. Only 9 million people speak Swedish, I think.”
He found school a little easy, but especially loves the integration of sports and academics.
“Because the school and culture of sports cooperate in a sense, they want you to focus on grades and still keep up on your sport,” he said.
In Sweden, schools don’t have their own fields, courts or pools, and students would have to sign up at separate clubs to get involved, he said. He has been involved in wrestling and football at Dos Pueblos and doesn’t have much free time, but he likes to go to movies, the mall and the beach with friends.
Many students had a hard time adjusting to the new culture, but William adapted pretty quickly, he said.
“It’s a really nice place, so it’s hard to complain,” he said.
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