MARSHALL - Before Ana Canali, Anezka Potesilova and Lais Oliveira arrived in the United States in early July, each of them had preconceived notions about Americans. As they've gradually gotten to know people in Minnesota, as part of the Lions International Youth Exchange, the three teenagers have altered their perception.
"I was wrong about everything," Canali said. "The weather. The people. The food. I thought that all Americans were rude and thought they were the best in everything, like in the movies. But I was totally wrong."
After overcoming lost luggage and re-routed and delayed travel experiences, the exchange students are settling in to their new environment. Like most of the 30-plus international youth throughout Minnesota, the girls are here until Aug. 1.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Along with Ana Canali and Lais Oliveira, Lions International Youth Exchange students from Brazil, Anezka Potesilova, left, from Czech Republic, gave a presentation at the Tea, Toast and Chat event Tuesday at the Adult Community Center in Marshall. Afterwards, Potesilova spoke with attendee Ted Rowe.
"It's all good," Potesilova said about her experience so far.
Potesilova and Canali, who are staying with Mike and Cheri Appel in Milroy, and Oliveira, who is being hosted by Danielle Thooft of Milroy, gave presentations about their own culture Tuesday morning at the Adult Community Center in Marshall. A fourth exchange student from Austria, sponsored by Don and Vicki Pals of Milroy, had flight issues and was unable to attend.
"The Czech Republic is in the middle of Europe," Potesilova, 15, said. "My city of 45,000 people is south of Prague, which is the capital city."
Potesilova explained that Czechoslovakia was created with the dissolution of Austria and Hungary at the end of World War I. Then, in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were formed from the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Ironically, in the process of sponsoring Potesilova, Mike Appel did some historical digging.
"All my life, I thought I was Austrian," he said. "But I found out that my grandfather was born in Czech Republic."
After Potesilova spoke about her local culture, Canali, 15, and Oliveira, 18, co-presented on their native country of Brazil.
"Brazil has a variety of people, including Africans, Italians and Germans," Canali said. "Most of the people of the world are found in Brazil."
Canali also explained that Brazil is considered the "Heart of the World" because of its enormous water source and biodiversity.
"We have the Amazon River, which is the biggest in the nation and the Amazon Forest," she said. "We also have a huge coastline, so we have awesome beaches."
Oliveira talked about some of Brazil's top leaders and current economy.
"We export iron ore, iron and steel, soybeans, automobiles, sugar cane, airplanes, beef, coffee and chicken," she said.
Brazil, whose national profession is soccer, will also be the host of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, the presenters said. The country is also home to Christ the Redeemer, one of the new seven wonders of the world.
"We also have the carnival, one of the greatest shows on Earth," Canali said. "It's a parade. They make everything, including colorful costumes, and they compete."
After the presentations were finished, attendees asked questions. Ted Rowe, of Marshall, asked the students when they first began learning English.
"I was four years old," Canali said.
Potesilova stated that she was about 7 years old when she began learning the English language, while Oliveira estimated that she had been 15.
Rowe also inquired about whether or not learning English was mandatory or optional in their educational system.
"We don't have a choice," Canali said. "We have to learn English and Spanish."
Potesilova pointed out that she was required to take English classes and then had the option of also learning French, German and Spanish languages. The Appels said that language was a consideration for them when making the decision to host two students at the same time.
"Two works out really well," Mike Appel said. "But we didn't want two from the same country because then they'd be speaking in their native language. So this way, it forces them to speak English."
Since the exchange students are only in the U.S. for a month, the Milroy host families have built a large number of activities into their schedule.
"We've really enjoyed the girls," Cheri Appel said. "And we've kept them on the run."
Oliveira has already been to the Black Hills area, while Potesilova and Canali have visited the Itasca and Duluth areas and also experienced a Twins game.
"That's the fun part about hosting students," Mike Appel said. "They're having a blast."
The biggest challenge so far, besides the airport drama, has been the hot, humid weather.
"It is the winter season for the people in the southern hemisphere," Appel said. "So they're not used to the heat. It's much colder in Brazil now. And, Czech weather is a lot like normal Minnesota weather. But not this hot. The heat has been pretty impressive."
While the sweltering weather has kept them from doing some outdoor activities, it hasn't slowed them down completely. In addition to attending the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant this weekend, the host families and the exchange students plan to visit the Mall of America, Valleyfair and a number of other Minnesota attractions.
The students will also participate in the week-long Lions International Youth Exchange camp in the near future, where they'll have the opportunity to travel around to different cities and experience a variety of new things.
"They start in Mankato and then move around," Cheri Appel said. "They'll go to the Chanhassen Dinner Theater and to St. Cloud. They'll be cooking at the Catholic Church for the International Potluck on July 28th."
The students will have more opportunities to build relationships and make memories at a potluck supper at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the park in Milroy. Community and Lions members are invited.
"It's very unusual to have this many exchange students in one small community," Mike Appel said. "We might as well continue that Minnesota nice mentality because so far, everybody has welcomed them and has made them feel comfortable."