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When you come from overseas, Spring Hill seems downright exotic

Special to The Star

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Exchange seeks host families

• Foreign Links Around the Globe is looking for families throughout the Kansas City metro area to host foreign exchange students next year. For more information, contact coordinator Candy Schoenberger at 913-592-5112 or candyschoenberger@gmail.com.

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Spring Hill is a far cry from Spain, Germany and Brazil.

And that’s exactly what makes the little Kansas town that straddles the Johnson-Miami County border so cool, gushed four teenage girls who are participating in the Foreign Links Around the Globe exchange program.

Candy Gonzalez, 16, and Cristina Salazar, 15, both from Spain, joined fellow exchange students Saskia Heussner, 17, of Germany, and Gabi Santana, 16, of Brazil, for an open house presentation last weekend at the Spring Hill Civic Center. The girls are spending their senior year at Spring Hill High School.

To an audience filled with interested families, the girls described the history, culture and architecture of their hometowns.

Afterward, sitting around a table at a local pizza joint, they shared some of the differences between life abroad and life in the States.

For most of them, joining the exchange program was a way to explore a culture that has fascinated them since childhood.

In their countries, America is well-known through movies and music, the girls pointed out. Curious about the everyday routine of Americans, they signed up for the program.

“I was shocked to realize that high school here is not like it is in the movies,” Candy said. “It’s not like ‘High School Musical’ or ‘Mean Girls’ at all, in fact it’s totally normal. In Spring Hill, the school is not divided into stereotypes. It’s more laid back, which is nice.”

Saskia agreed.

“The people here aren’t scary; they’re very friendly, actually,” she said. “They come right up and talk to you. I feel like I can be myself.”

For all of them, the Midwestern landscape is exotic compared to their home countries.

Cristina, who hails from Santander in northern Spain near Bilbao, is used to living in postcard perfect scenery. From her bedroom balcony, she has a clear view of the sparkling blue ocean. Mountains loom in the distance beyond the historical buildings of the popular Spanish tourist town.

“I cannot stay in one place my whole life because I love to travel and learn about different cultures,” she said. “I knew Kansas would be completely different than what I was used to and that excited me. I think Spring Hill is cool in its own way.”

For Gabi, who is used to warm weather in Brazil, it was snow that made her winter special.

“Snow is so beautiful, especially when it was up to our knees,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “My favorite part about being in Kansas has been making snowmen. It was such an amazing experience.”

Even seemingly little things surprised the girls about their temporary home.

“In some of the bathrooms, you don’t have to flush the toilet,” said Cristina, flummoxed. “They flush on their own. The first time it happened, I just stared down in shock.”

As the girls finish up their final semester in Spring Hill, they are looking forward to one major event before they prepare to pack their bags for home this summer.

It’s prom, of course.

Shopping for glittery pastel puffy dresses at Oak Park mall has been one of the highlights of American teenage life so far.

That, and the food.

“I had never been to Taco Bell before and my first time there was amazing,” Saskia said. “We don’t have Mexican food in Germany. Now I love it.”

Gabi discovered a new love on Thanksgiving.

“Pumpkin pie is definitely the best thing in America,” she said. “Every time I take a bite, it’s like heaven in my mouth. I’m worried that on my way home, the X-ray machine at the airport will show boxes and boxes of pumpkin pie piled in my bag.”

The girls laughed.

Their carefree attitude and adventurous spirit, evident at the open house, was a treat for many of the audience members who came out to meet them, curious about their cultures.

“Living in Kansas, people don’t often get exposed to other cultures, so it was important to show my kids that there are people out there who are different than them,” said Christine Jones of Spring Hill, who attended with her two teenagers. “I thought it was really interesting.”

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