Ever want to live someplace really, really different? Try Keene.
Imagine as a teenager moving from a hamlet the size of Keene to a city the size of New York, but one in Asia where the average daily temperature is more than 90 degrees (a freezing day for them in 74). They can also get up to a foot of rain a month for half the year. Nearly 95 percent of the people are Buddhists (Christians make up .07 percent). Some of the food (by no means all) can be quite spicy. Approximately 3 percent of the population speaks English. And badminton is played with a vengeance.
Draf Boorut, a teenager who hails from Bangkok, Thailand, had a similar challenge in reverse, arriving at Keene Central School last September, excepting the number of people who speak Thai doesn't even add up to 3 percent. Draf is one of six international students enrolled at Keene Central, along with one living and schooling in Willsboro, who showcased their culinary abilities and presented slide shows about their hometowns and cultures during International Night on Thursday, April 3.
Dave, Ann and Josie Hough with Draf Boorut, of Thailand, at Keene Central School's International Night on April 3 (Photo — Naj Wikoff)
"I think it is a tough adjustment in the beginning, but by Thanksgiving they come to love the friendships and bonds they have developed," said Mark Sturges, who with his wife, Gwen, hosted Clara Sanz from Spain. "As Clara mentioned in her presentation, she is used to having mass transit and being able to be an hour away in no time, while here everything has to be planned if you want to go skiing, to Plattsburgh, or to Lake Placid for a movie and dinner."
Keene's international program, which is coordinated by Joy McCabe, is in its second year and is modeled after a similar program held in Newcomb, which in four years has hosted 43 students from 21 nations. The kids live with local families, and several are repeat hosts.
"It is great for our kids to meet people from all over the world and to become very close friends with them," said Spanish teacher Peg Wilson. "It's a nice experience for them and for the families who have hosted the children. The experience changes them. They now feel like they have a child in another foreign world."
"Having Draf has worked out wonderfully for us," said Dave Hough. "No issues with him, no problems, lots of challenges for him adjusting to school standpoint, but that's worked out, and he has been wonderful. He used to cook a lot when he first showed up, but he doesn't cook as much any more. I think he is getting used to our more bland food. Actually, I think he likes American food. I have learned that the world is a lot smaller than we think it is. He and his family are no different than we are really. They have the same challenges and expectations. It has been a completely positive experience for us. I would absolutely recommend it for other people. We are doing it again next year."
"I am from Madrid, not the capital, but from a small town nearby that is bigger than Keene but not much bigger, maybe 19,000," said Clara as she served me pinchos morunos, a Spanish pork dish, and arroz con leche, a rice pudding. "I like my stay here. It's good, but I am getting a bit sick of the snow. I like snow, and I have tried skiing, but I am ready for spring. I have learned that the people in Keene are pretty open. They have accepted the international students pretty fast."
"I live near Seoul, one hour by car," said Seung Yeol Ko, a South Korean. "I like Keene. It is really a nice place to live because nature surrounds us, and I like the people. I like the snow. Last year, I went to Taiwan. It is a warm country, so I did not have snow. Here I have a lot of snow and learned how to snowboard. I like pizza. Once I had meatloaf. I like that, too!"
"I come from a pretty small town, about 2,000 people, and we do not see snow at all," said Sara Gagliardi, from Brazil. "I love the snow. I spent the first semester of school in Keene, and now I live in Lake Placid. What have I learned? First I have learned English, second winter is tough, but I just love all the winter activities. Going skiing, ice skating, and everything is just really, really fun. For tonight I made chocolate balls called brigadeiro. They are made of condensed milk, chocolate powder and butter."
"In our countryside, boys do a lot of hard work, so they are really strong," said Aida Anarbekova, who hails from Kyrgystan, once a part of the Soviet Union. "When boys are 16 or 17, they start participating in a national game that is like soccer but they do it riding a horse. It is very dangerous and only strong, strong guys can do it. Archery and wrestling are also very popular. We have beautiful mountains. Here the mountains are much smaller. We have a lot of ski places, but I have never tried skiing. But here I try it and it is awesome. I am now going to do it my country."
"Everything is different between Keene and Copenhagen, the whole culture, how the parents raise their kids," said Fie Tims. "In Denmark, everyone rides their bikes all the time. Instead of cars, we use bikes. I am having a good time here. I love the people, I do. When I go back to Denmark, I will tell my friends that this community is amazing. It's beautiful, and if you like nature, you should definitely come here."
"It has been great. It has been neat having Fie in the house," said Reed Abbott, her host dad. "Fie is a very caring person and is excited to be in the United States and learn about our country. She is very proud of her country. She is very proud how clean it is, very proud about everyone riding bikes, that there are not many motorcars, that they have very healthy eating. She loves being over here. We are planning on going over and visiting her. She has invited us, and I am sure that at sometime we will go."
"Having a Serbian brother is pretty fun," said Harry Joanette of Zoran Karpetrovic. "I never had a sibling or brother in my whole life, so now I have a brother for once and someone who can bring in and show a new culture to my family and me."
"I like having a Thai brother," said Josie Hough about Draf Boorut. "I never had a sibling before, so that's new. Draf doesn't cook Thai food a lot, but sometimes. Thai food is hot, very spicy. Draf likes chicken, a lot of chicken."
"Josie taught me how to ride a horse," said Draf.