An international flavor

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Principal Maria Kelly of Nativity School in Burke has been welcoming foreign exchange students into her international student program for the past eight years. Students come from a variety of Asian, European and South and Central American countries.

The students are selected by exchange agencies that screen children for the program. Most of the students are in the upper grades, but Kelly said over the years she has accepted a few younger children into the program. With the younger students, a parent usually comes along and stays with the host family. Kelly said the students are not all Catholic, but most are Christian. They usually are fluent in English, but some do need extra help.

The children adapt. Kelly said that last year a Chinese student had a smartphone app that he would use to translate difficult words.

Students stay with sponsor families. The duration of the stay varies from a few months to an entire semester. The purpose of the program is for students to learn about different cultures and build international friendships.

This year, Nativity is hosting five students from South Korea: Guang Hyun Lee, 10; Kyun-Woo Kim, 11; Iyun Soo Jang, 11; Chae Min Jang, 11; and Jun Hyeon Moon, 11.

The school is also hosting Baruch Byrne, 14, from Peru, and Annie Wang, 13, from China.

There are some interesting back stories. Byrne, 14, is staying with the Criado family. The families have been friends for years. Sebastian Criado is in Byrne's class, and has visited Byrne in Peru many times. Sebastian's mother went to school with Byrne's mother in Peru.

The boys get along well, sitting near each other and kidding around.

"He's nice and very funny," Criado said of his friend.

Byrne goes to a Catholic Montessori School in Peru and plays soccer and basketball. It's summer now in his country, so he's forgoing a vacation to study.

"I like it here," he said of Nativity. "It's a good school."

He will return home at the end of February.

Rhett Lee, 9, likes Nativity and the students. He and the other four Korean students also will leave at the end of February. He likes math, soccer, basketball and dodgeball.

Eighth-grader Annie Wang, 13, is from China. She will stay until the end of the school year, but would like to continue in an American high school. She's happy with the school and the students.

"It's pretty good (here). People are friendly," said Wang.

It's a positive experience for most students.

"The students are very accepting," said Annie Fernandez, Nativity's assistant principal and director of development.

Kelly agrees that everyone benefits from the experience and the children build strong friendships.

"It gets somber around here when they leave," she said.

Sister Bernadette McManigal, diocesan superintendent of schools, said that other diocesan schools welcome foreign students too. Those are students here to study. Nativity is different. They have two students here to study, but the five Korean students do not receive grades. They are here to learn the culture.

"These programs are mutually beneficial," said Sister Bernadette. "The student from another country learns about us and our students have the opportunity to learn firsthand about a different culture and country."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015