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Forming a new family, new friends

Foreign exchange students enjoy school, friends, family life

SHEFFIELD — Five months into their school year as foreign exchange students at Bureau Valley High School in Manlius, Roni Reggin of Mexico and Helena Arnadottir of Iceland agree it’s been a great experience ... with some surprises along the way.

The girls have both settled into the Sheffield home of Marcus and Bobi Throneburg and their sons Lincoln, 3, and Bishop, 1. From the comfort of that home, Reggin and Arnadottir talked about what they expected before they arrived and what school and home life has been for them in the United States.

Preparing for the move

Though she had been to the United States before on vacation, Arnadottir said it’s different knowing you would live there for a year and be away from your family for that long. She was nervous and scared when she boarded the plane to leave Iceland. She couldn’t help but wonder if her host family would like her.

Reggin had also been to the United States before on vacation because she has relatives in the States. But on vacation, you don’t really interact with people other than your family, she said.

School in the U.S.

Reggin said she had pictured American schools like the schools she had seen portrayed on television, schools with “mean girls.” But that’s not what she found at all at Bureau Valley. Everyone was so nice, talking to you and including you, she said..

“I never thought I’d be so welcomed,” Reggin said.

Reggin, 16, and Arnadottir, 17, are seniors at Bureau Valley High School. Reggin started as a sophomore last semester but will be in senior courses second semester. This way she will be able to go through prom and graduation, as will Arnadottir.

Thanks to school, friends and home life, their command of the English language has improved a lot since they arrived, the girls agreed.

Arnadottir, whose native language is Icelandic, had a harder time learning and adjusting to a new language. She could speak some English but not a lot. Last year in Iceland, she had a class with a teacher from England, but Arnadottir said she had to drop the class because she couldn’t understand the teacher. It was hard for her to learn English from a teacher from England, she smiled.

The Throneburgs said Arnadottir have made great strides in her speaking and understanding of English. There was quite a bit of just nodding that first month, Marcus said.

After about a month, her English started becoming more automatic, Arnadottir said.

For Reggin, she had good English classes in Mexico and was pretty good with English when she came, but her accent has improved a lot, she said. She knew how to speak English, but she still had to think about a lot of words. There were days when she woke up and would feel fluent in English; other days she felt she couldn’t get the right words to say, she said.

“But now I can watch movies in English and understand everything, and now I sometimes even dream in English,” Reggin said. “Before I thought all my thoughts and ideas in my brain in Spanish, and now when I think, it is in English. When I talk to my family back home, it’s hard to switch back.”

Both girls have taken a wide variety of subjects at Bureau Valley, classes like physics, chemistry, health, American history, home economics, algebra, anatomy, psychology, sociology, and of course, English.

The girls have also gotten involved in the sports program at school. Arnadottir plays on the girls basketball team, and Reggin is a team manager. Both girls did cross country and will do track.

“I’m learning a lot, and I’ve having fun,” Reggin said. “This is a good balance of homework and activities and fun.”

Forming a new family

But school is only one part of the foreign exchange experience. Family life is also an important part.

If there has been one surprise for the Throneburgs with having two foreign exchange students in their home, Marcus said he’s been surprised at how well they have all bonded together. Their sons love their “big sisters.” The girls play with the boys and have certain responsibilities in the home, like taking care of their own room and bathroom, doing their own laundry. They help in the kitchen, just like in their families back home. They are a family.

Arnadottir said she feels comfortable and at home with the Throneburgs.

“I don’t think of myself as a guest. We are family,” she said.

The feeling is mutual for the Throneburgs.

“Roni and Helena have become like daughters to us,” Marcus said. “When they are out at night, I don’t sleep well at night until they get home, just like my mom was.”

Heading back home

Bobi Throneburg said there is a sadness that comes with knowing the family is at a halfway point through the school year. Their family experience together won’t end in June or July when the girls leave but will be a lifetime experience of being bonded and connected together, she said.

“Roni and Helena have been more of a blessing to us and our boys than we’ve ever been to them,” Bobi said.

For Reggin, talking about leaving is not something she likes to do right now, she said.

Fortunately, that conversation can be put on hold for a while, as there’s still a lot of family life, school and friends for Reggin and Arnadottir to enjoy.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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