SHERIDAN — A group of young people is showing local students that the world is not as big a place as it may seem.
“I think the world is so small that young people should know each other,” said Donna Shelley, local coordinator for the exchange student program, Center for Cultural Interchange. “They are not that different.”
There are six exchange students in Sheridan County School Districts 1 and 2, hailing from diverse places such as Lebanon, Brazil, Germany and Russia.
While the exchange students have been exposed to the western culture of Sheridan, the students’ local high schools have also benefited from learning about countries and religions that they may be unfamiliar with.
“The hardest part is worrying that I made a difference and making sure that I (projected) the correct image of my country,” said Sara Shahine, a senior at Sheridan High School who is a Muslim from Beirut, Lebanon.
Other exchange students attending local schools say that they are striving to show a more nuanced view of their home countries.
For instance, Katharina Klaffke, a sophomore at Sheridan High School from Munich, Germany, related a story to her United States history class that during World War II, many Germans did not support the Nazi government, including her great grandfather who hid persecuted Jewish citizens and had to flee the town he lived in to avoid capture from the Nazis.
Local exchange students received plenty of Wyoming hospitality during their stay as they say they found Sheridan open and welcoming. Shahine said she has made close friendships and has invited one of her friends to come to Lebanon in the next year.
“The people are really positive,” said Nadezhda Koksharova, from Russia, a sophomore at Sheridan High School. “When you go to school everyone is smiling at you.”
Of course weather, (it snowed on Koksharova’s birthday in late April), different styles of dress and adjusting to life in a smaller community have been, at times, a challenge.
Firuze Abbasova, a senior at Big Horn High School from Azerbaijan, said she has enjoyed knowing all of her classmates at a smaller school.
The exchange students also were active in numerous extra-curricular activities including school plays, speech as well as debate team and soccer and volleyball teams. They also have volunteered at local nonprofit organizations like the YMCA and the Dog and Cat Shelter.
Shelley said that host families are still needed for next year and interested families can call her at 672-3196 or 751-5789.
“I would like to express my thanks to all of my wonderful host families, the schools and the community for caring so much for all of my students,” she said. “Without them these students would never have experienced this exceptional adventure and contact with life in America.”
Exchange students in Sheridan County School Districts 1 and 2
Sheridan High School
Sara Shahine — Lebanon
Katharina Klaffke — Germany
Nadezhda Koksharova — Russia
Big Horn High School
Firuze Abbasova — Azerbaijan
Lorenz Gunter — Germany
Tongue River High School
Mateus Segura — Brazil