EXETER — Wyoming Area School District has had a history of accepting one foreign exchange student per year but the 2021-2022 school year has been a little different. This year Wyoming Area has three students from Taiwan, Italy and Spain.
The students are sponsored by International Student Exchange (ISE) and are managed by Area Director Bonnie Witkosky of Wilkes-Barre. Witkosky has been working for ISE for 12 years, overseeing Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut.
Hsuan-yi (Eason) Chu, of Miaoli City, Taiwan; Claudia Papa, of Palermo, Italy; and Gabriela (Gabi) Almendro Mirat, of Madrid, Spain, will be soon ending their schooling at Wyoming Area shortly after graduation. Their 10-month visas will expire and all three will be heading back to their home countries as changed people.
All three are fluent in multiple languages and have been receiving high honors while studying at Wyoming Area, according to Witkosky. In addition to schooling, each student was required to complete 10 hours of community volunteering during their stay.
Eason Hsuan-yi — Taiwan
Hsuan-yi, 16 years old and the youngest of the three exchange students, is a 10th grade student at Wyoming Area. Prior to reaching America, Hsuan-yi set goals for himself while doing his exchange program. He wanted to experience baseball, basketball, bike riding, family activities, skiing or snowboarding, and swimming and Witkosky said she believes he hit all of his goals.
“I wanted to experience different cultures,” Hsuan-yi said, on why he chose schooling in the United States. “In America, there are different races of people and in Taiwan you can only find Asians.”
Hsuan-yi chose to go through the exchange program earlier as a tenth grade student as opposed to Papa and Mirat, who are currently studying as members of the senior class.
“I didn’t want to wait until after 11th grade to come to America,” Hsuan-yi said. “Tenth grade starts high school in Taiwan and I didn’t want to say goodbye to my friends and when I go back I’d have different friends in high school, that’s why I chose 10th grade.”
Each student stays with one host family for the entire 10-month stay. Hsuan-yi has been staying with the Melissa and Josh Boub family from Wyoming.
The Boubs have hosted exchange students before including Claudia Papa’s older sister, Roberta, a few years ago.
Hsuan-yi said he is looking forward to returning to the U.S. after completing college.
His future goal is to become a dentist or an engineer, something he will sort out with plenty of schooling left in his high school and college careers.
Claudia Papa — Italy
Papa is a senior at Wyoming Area and will be graduating with the senior class on June 13.
During her time here, she has been heavily involved with her studies, was a member of the homecoming court last fall, was on the school’s volleyball team, and was active with the drama club having a part in the high school play, “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.”
Papa, 17, was also a student of Leadership Northeast under the direction of her host family mom, Lori Nocito.
Ever since she could remember, Papa recalls wanting to go to America.
“Since I was five years old, I’ve always dreamed of living in the U.S. and I wanted to live in New York City, and it’s still my dream,” Papa said. “I chose U.S. because I wanted to experience it first (hand) and also my sister was here so, I kind of did what she did. I realized how good an experience it was for her.”
Papa’s dream will be on hold for a few years, before she can enter college; she has to repeat her senior year in high school in Italy.
“I hope to come back to the U.S. after college.” Papa added. “I would like to be a businesswoman in New York City, that’s my goal even though I don’t know exactly what I want to do in between.”
Gabriella Almendro Mirat – Spain
Mirat, who turns 18 years old next month, is also a senior and is no stranger to the student exchange program. Her mother was also an exchange student in her youth and currently, Mirat’s twin brother and younger brother are studying in the State of Kansas.
“In Spain a lot of people go to America as exchange students,” Mirat said. “My mother was an exchange student. All of my friends that came here had a nice experience so I decided to go here.”
Prior to coming to America, Mirat said she studied Northeastern Pennsylvania, Wyoming Area School District and her host family.
While in the states, Mirat, like her counterparts, wanted to absorb as many American cultures and experiences as possible. She was also on the homecoming court last fall and played on volleyball and cross-country teams.
Mirat will enter college in the fall of 2022 in Spain, even though she was accepted at King’s College, Wilkes University, and the University of Scranton.
According to Witkosky, Mirat’s tuition for all three colleges would be three times the cost for a foreign student making it unaffordable for Mirat to attend college in the states.
Papa said college in Italy, like Spain, is free with the exception of taxes and other fees.
Mirat’s career goal is to be a plastic surgeon.
Wyoming Area experiences
Each student said their English has improved greatly in the nine-months of landing in the U.S. Witkosky said Hsuan-yi’s English improvement has been the most dramatic of the trio.
Mirat said initially she had difficulty with long sentences and the order of words in each sentence.
All three said most people would talk slowly to them when they first arrived, which they all found amusing.
Hsuan-yi said his biggest problem was with science labs and finding partners for experiments and labs was difficult.
All three students are in agreement that as time went by, they got more comfortable with studies, making friends, getting used to the culture and their host families.
Each student’s families, along with Area Director Witkosky, have taken the students on sightseeing trips to New York City, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and even Florida as well as Dorney Park, Allentown, and Knoebel’s Park, Elysburg.
Playing sports and fitting in with the American counterparts has been enlightening and a joy for each student to experience while at Wyoming Area.
Papa said there are no clubs in Italian schools and one of her favorite experiences was taking part in the school play.
Hsuan-yi said he was fascinated with hair color and the variety of colors, especially with the girls in school noting the only hair color you see in Taiwan is black.
A lasting memory for Hsuan-yi was attending the school’s semi-formal.
“Last week was the Semi (formal) and I had two dates,” Hsuan-yi laughed. “We never have parties back in Taiwan, it is too expensive.”
Hsuan-yi, Mirat, and Papa all agree they have had great host families, which was very important to them.
“I was nervous before I came here and after I got here, it felt like my real family,” Hsuan-yi said about his host family. “I’ll be a little sad when I have to leave.”
“I love them,” Mirat said of the Duffys, her host family. “I have a good relationship with them and I have a lot of fun with them and they are just so funny. Their grandmother lives very close by and is funny too.”
Papa was in agreement about her host family, Lori and Frank Nocito.
“I don’t like my host family,” Papa joked. “No I love them, we have such a wonderful relationship and they really feel like family and it’s one of the reasons why I cry when I think about leaving them. I know when I come back when I want and the door will always be open for me. I can’t imagine my life without them and it’s hard to even think about it.”
All three students will face some challenges with exams on subjects they studied at Wyoming Area when returning home.
Mirat’s courses studied here will transfer, but Papa and Hsuan-yi’s will not.
All three students will miss their stay in Greater Pittston, their fellow students and host families when they go back to their perspective homes.
“I cry every time I think about it,” Mirat said on leaving America. “It is so sad because I’m used to living here with my host family and I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go back home. I’m going to miss my whole life here and I’m going to have to adapt to my friends in Spain again.”
Mirat continued saying, “I want to go back to see my dog, my friends and my family, but I also don’t want to go back because I want to stay with my host family and friends, it’s difficult.”
Hsuan-yi said his feelings are a bit different then his exchange student peers.
“I don’t feel like them (Papa and Mirat),” Hsuan-yi said. “I’m sad about leaving but not that sad because I will be doing different things in the future.”
“It’s hard when you build a new life and now is the moment when you are getting used to everything and your host family feels life family and your friends feel like best friends and hang out with them every day and all of a sudden you have to leave,” Papa said. “Even if I come back it will be different, everything will be different.”
Witkosky said she never accompanies the students to the airport when they are going back to their native countries because it is a sad occasion.
International Student Exchange program
Witkosky said she’s always interested in finding host families for future exchange students.
If anyone is interested in hosting a student, you can contact her at 570-417-3418 or email her at [email protected]
To learn more about the student exchange program, set your browser to iseusa.org.