Students From Spain Enjoy Cecil County

By Rebecca Sewald rsewald@cecilwhig.com

Fifteen-year-old Sergi Rosell has been keeping busy this summer. He has toured Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. He caught a fly ball at Ripken Stadium. He spent a day at Hersheypark. And he’s even planning a trip to New York City.

But despite all the excitement, Sergi said his favorite part of the summer has been spending time with his family – his host family, that is.

Sergi is one of nearly 30 students who traveled from Spain to spend a portion of their summer in Cecil County. The trip was organized by Global Friendships, a company that offers opportunities for international students to travel to the United States and live with American families as they learn about U.S. culture.

Last month, the Whig reported that Port Deposit resident Ron Erickson and his wife, Vickie, were looking for local families to host the students for a month-long stay. Sergi’s host parents, Kyle and Orsolya Herbein, were among those who volunteered.

“We’re going to miss him when he goes home. He’s become a part of the family,” Orsolya said during a recent interview at her Conowingo home.

During his downtime, Sergi enjoys simple activities like watching “Harry Potter” movies; interacting with Emma, his host family’s 15-month-old daughter; going fishing on the Susquehanna River; and trying new foods, such as grilled steak and Maryland crabs.

“The food is very different,” he said.

Before he returns to Spain at the end of the month, he’s planning to prepare a traditional Spanish meal for his host family. However, what he will make is a secret, he said. He wants it to be a surprise.

But the food isn’t all that’s different. Sergi lives in Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city.

“It’s very noisy there all the time,” he said.

The quiet, rural atmosphere of Cecil County is a welcome change of pace for the teen.

“It’s very good here – perfect,” he said.

Like many of his classmates, Sergi found time to watch the World Cup Final on July 11. He said it was exciting to watch the game. But not just because his country won the championship against The Netherlands. He had a bet going with his host father – a fan of The Netherlands – that if Spain won, he would have to get a new hairstyle of Sergi’s choosing. Kyle now sports a stylish mohawk.

“The kids were going crazy when Spain won,” Cecil County group coordinator Ron Erickson said. “They were all singing their country’s song and running around.”

Sixteen-year-old Aitami Varela of Madrid watched the World Cup Final with her host parents, Chuck and Sherry Solomon of Conowingo. She said she is enjoying her stay in Cecil County, though she admits it’s very different from what’s she’s used to.

“The way of life is different,” she said.

But she’s not homesick. Her host parents have been keeping her busy shopping, swimming at the Conowingo Pool, touring Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and visiting with family.

“It’s been educational having Aitami here,” Chuck said. “We’ve learned a lot about Spain and communicating.”

One of the reasons the couple volunteered to host a foreign exchange student was so that their five young grandchildren could experience a different culture. During a recent visit, the children had an opportunity to meet Aitami and chat with her.

“They spent a lot of time talking and really enjoyed it,” Sherry said.

When the students aren’t with their host families, they spend several days a week participating in English classes at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Colora. The classes feature hands-on activities like cooking from recipes written in English and field trips to places like Pizza Hut, where they interact with staff members to make their own pizzas.

While the students arrived with a basic knowledge of the English language, the classes serve as a way to help them improve their conversational English, Ron said. Both Sergi and Aitami said they have learned a lot.

“I have seen a difference in the way he speaks,” Orsolya said of Sergi. “He’s making progress with his language.”

Despite the students’ busy schedules, they’ve found time to demonstrate some goodwill during their stay. Last Saturday, a portion of the students gathered at Martin’s supermarket in Rising Sun to host Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a charity that raises money to find a cure for childhood cancers. They set a goal to raise $500 and were able to exceed it by an additional $700.

The students will return to Spain next week, though it won’t be long before a new group arrives in Cecil County.

According to Ron, there will be 15 more students traveling from Spain to live locally from Aug. 2 to Aug. 29. Host families are needed, he said. Information is available by contacting Ron at 443-987-1203 or roncolroad@msn.com.

“It’s fun and very interesting,” he said. “My favorite part has been getting to know the students and learning about their culture.”

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