Local couple hosts exchange students from Brazil and Colombia
Two girls from two different countries came to Crookston and are staying in the same home and going to the same high school after jumping on board the International Student Exchange program. Manuella Moratelli of Brazil and Karen Gonzalez of Colombia are staying with Karen and Greg Swenson, and couldn’t have more kind things to say about Crookston and Minnesota. Except, maybe, the winter of 2018-19.
Moratelli has been in Crookston for nine months and leaves on May 30, and Gonzalez has been in Crookston four months and will be in the area until December. The Swenson family has hosted four other exchange students when their last daughter left the house and they were experiencing their first time with an “empty nest.” Their first time hosting was in 2017 and they will be done hosting after Gonzalez leaves.
“It was well worth the experience,” Karen told the Times. “It gives kids the opportunity to live somewhere else and get an education somewhere else.”
Moratelli, who, again, is from Brazil, is a junior and currently attends Crookston High School. When she got to CHS and didn’t know anyone, she told the Times that “the girls” came up to her to ask her to play softball with them. Being a first-time player, she immediately fell in love with the sport.
Moratelli has enjoyed traveling with the team and had a busy week with four games last week. While she’s not playing softball, she’s studying U.S. History - her favorite class. Moratelli says that learning about the United States in a U.S. school is “really cool.”
So, did she pick Minnesota as her destination state while exploring the foreign exchange program? Not exactly. Moratelli says it costs more to “pick” the state you want to go to with one friend picking California and another going to Arkansas. While she says she’s lucky to have been to the United States before, going to Florida, Nevada and California with her family, she’s happy she came to Minnesota.
About this past winter… Moratelli said it was “cold, cold, cold.” Winters in Brazil get about 30-34 degrees tops, so this last Minnesota winter was a rough one. And it was the first time she had seen snow. She says she has also gained “a lot of weight” while being here as there are more processed foods and “candy.”
“Brazil is more natural, we don’t eat out very often,” Moratelli explained. “We have McDonalds and Subway, too, though.”
Moratelli says her young family is “very close” with her parents, all four of her grandparents still alive, many aunts and uncles on both sides, and, the people she misses most, her six-year-old brother and four-year-old sister. Plus she has a boyfriend back in Brazil, too. Another fun fact about her family is her grandmother is also doing an exchange program as part of a global service project.
Moratelli has enjoyed her host family as well, getting an “actual experience” with family get-togethers, sharing stories, and being outdoors. She especially likes it when the host grandkids come over as the granddaughter asks her to paint her nails and toes.
In her free time, Moratelli likes to shop and to read. She read her first five or six English books and felt very proud of herself for completing them.
If she could give advice to any student thinking about trying the foreign exchange program, she says, “Go.”
“Go, be abroad, go to other cities and other states,” Moratelli explains. “There are many things to see all over this world and it helps you see the world in a different way.”
“I’ve been through a lot before coming to Crookston and, now, my English is better, I can understand people, and I’ve had a personal improvement.”
Her future plans include jumping on another program that will allow her to work by Lake Tahoe.
Gonzalez is from Colombia, is also a junior currently attending Crookston High School, and plays softball with Moratelli. Half expecting her favorite thing about CHS to also be softball, Gonzalez surprised the Times by saying it was Choir.
“We don’t have many opportunities for music in Colombia,” Gonzalez admitted. “I came here excited to take singing because I love singing.”
Another opportunity that Gonzalez was presented with was the ability to do art in school. She even earned a “perfect score” for her photography art during a contest. Her favorite type of photography happens to be nature photography.
Gonzalez told the Times that, for the exchange program, they are required to take classes in math, science, U.S. History, English and either play one sport or take a gym class. In the fall, Gonzalez plans to play soccer.
Another first for Gonzalez was going to Prom this spring and, afterward, to the after-Prom party “Blast to Bede.” She told the Times they don’t have activities like that in Colombia, so to experience it was highly enjoyable.
Asking Gonzalez about her first winter and her first time seeing snow, she said, “The first time seeing was it was like ‘oh my’, I loved it; then, after the first week, I hated it.” Apparently they don’t have snow in Colombia.
In Colombia, Gonzalez is a “scout” which is just like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in the U.S., but they don’t separate genders into different organizations there. She lives with her mom and stepfather and has two sisters, a cat, and a boyfriend that she texts every day. (Don’t worry. She calls her mom every weekend.) Technically, she’s already done with high school in Colombia so when she returns she will go to college.
This summer, Gonzalez and the Swenson family will be traveling to Kansas City to the Swenson’s daughter’s bridal shower, and Gonzalez also hopes to go fishing and to a baseball game for the first time.
Living with a host family has helped Gonzalez learn more about Minnesota culture, has helped her make friends and has taught her a lot already. It was new for her being in a small town as she lives in a big city in Colombia. Gonzalez also admits she’s the “shy one” of the household, but still recommends being a part of the program.
“This is the first time being away from my family, so I’ve learned how to be myself and do things on my own,” Gonzalez explained. “It’s been nice being here.”