Oceanside sees record number of exchange students

By Stephen Betts | Feb 08, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Joumana Ben Salem of Chebba, Tunisia, speaks before the RSU 13 Board Thursday night, Feb. 7.

Rockland — Students from the four corners of the world have come ashore at Oceanside High School.

There are seven foreign exchange students at the regional high school in Rockland, the most of any school in the state, according to Principal Jesse Bartke. They come from Hungary, Thailand, France, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Iceland and Brazil.

The students have enriched the culture of the school by sharing their countries' cultures, he said.

Five of the seven students appeared before the Regional School Unit 13 Board at its Thursday night. Feb. 7, meeting.

Bartke said the large number of exchange students occurred "organically" as the relationship with the international cultural exchange organization AFS-USA grew. Last school year, there were five foreign exchange students at Oceanside, and the year before that there were two.

He said Oceanside's having so many AFS students creates an opportunity for students here to go abroad for a year. He said, however, there have been no Oceanside students who have taken advantage of the program since 2015.

"This provides an important education that you cannot get in the classroom," the principal said.

Jourmana Ben Salem from Chebba, Tunisia, said her community was the same as Rockland, but not as famous. She said she liked it, except for the public transportation. The Tunisian student said she has made presentations about her country to students at South School in Rockland.

Geovanny Garcia Downing from Liberia, Costa Rica, said his year at Oceanside has been a great experience. He said he has participated in different sports and that the theater program was great and the best thing he has done.

Adel Boroka from Szeged, Hungary, said that the classes have been interesting and it was educational to learn America's views on subjects such as World War I. "it's been good to step out of my comfort zone," Boroka said.

Each of the students also talked about the friendships they have made with their peers at Oceanside.

Oceanside has an enrollment of 489 students from Rockland, Thomaston, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing, as well as tuition students from St. George.

Ruth Anne Hohfeld, who has hosted students through the AFS program, encouraged people to become host families. "Hosting is amazing, it makes you look at your own world through new eyes," said Hohfeld, who was the first chair of the RSU 13 Board when it was created in 2009.

Chelsea Kidd, another host parent, said parents locally often are concerned about their children's safety if they go abroad.

"Parents think the word "minefield," but really, it is a goldmine," Kidd said.

There are scholarships available to students to reduce the costs of studying abroad, including from the Rockland Rotary Club. Information on the program can be received from the school, as well as the afsusa.org website.

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