Exchange students excel

Published 12:50 pm Thursday, February 25, 2016

Farmville has recently played host to a variety of exchange students from nations across the world, such as Germany, France, Malaysia, Thailand, Ghana and Kazakhstan. “Much of this is due to families in the area who have agreed to host international students on exchange programs,” said Melanie Marks, an American Scandinavian Student Exchange (ASSE) international representative.

“For a small town, we are (currently) hosting an unusually large number. At least three of them are here after being selected from thousands of applicants from a program being offered by the United States Department of State,” she said.

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According to Christy Murphy, Fuqua’s director of admissions, the school had 12 international students this year.

“Our international students are a wonderful addition to our school community,” she said. “They help broaden our students’ perspective on the world and enrich our community in so many ways. We are proud to have hosted many international students through the years and look forward to hosting additional international students in the future.”

Marks said one of the exchange students attending Prince Edward High School — Melaniel Vecina — has a particularly unique story.

“She is blind and she is one of the students that was selected by the Department of State to participate in this amazing program,” Marks said. “It is the first blind student that Prince Edward has ever had.”

Vecina is an exchange student from the Phillipines.

ASSE representative Maria Johansson-Waller said Vecina is in Prince Edward enrolled in the  The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES) program. “The YES Program is designed to promote increased understanding and respect among cultures by exposing the youth to America’s diverse belief systems, civil society principles and community service,” Johansson-Waller said.

Linda Quick, Vecina’s host mom and an ASSE representative, helps find suitable families for the exchange students.

“Sometimes this can be difficult, but for most families, the relationships last a lifetime,” said Quick.

“We thought if Melaniel could fly over from another country and tackle a year, we could learn to do whatever it required on our end. So the journey began,” Quick said.

“Before any family can host a student we have to get school approval. For Mel, it meant having an IEP done as well … so we were so very thankful when Prince Edward agreed to accept her.”

Quick said Vecina has accomplished a lot since being in the United States. During class, Vecina listens to her school books on an iPad, and Quick said she helps her study by reading notes as Vecina translates them to braille.

“The school and faculty have gone out of their way to make her year successful. She wants to be an international lawyer and this is one step closer to reaching her dreams,” Quick said.

She said Vecina has visited Washington, D.C., Richmond and the beach, and has enjoyed singing in the church choir, riding roller coasters, playing games and traveling. She also witnessed snow for the first time while in the United States. Before Vecina returns to the Philippines, she will visit Disney World.

“We have learned about her country — the Philippines — but mostly this year we’ve learned not to underestimate a person with a disability,” Quick said. “She has taught us more than any of us have taught her. I am proud to have another daughter.”