LONG CREEK - Larry and Anita Griffith, the parents of two daughters, took on eight more "children" this year as Long Creek School set up a dormitory to host foreign exchange students.
The dormitory was a duplex owned by the school that had housed teachers, but recently the building had not been utilized to the full extent. With dwindling enrollment and financial pressures, Long Creek School followed the lead of other rural schools such as Ukiah, Burnt River, Crane, Mitchell and Monument by implementing a dormitory for foreign exchange students, an idea resisted by some community members in the past. It is expected that the school will break even this year, and next year should benefit from the venture, officials reported.
After a recent remodel, the duplex received a paint job from Larry Griffith and now provides a spacious home away from home for the four girls and four boys and a special room for the dorm parents.
The students include juniors Valentine Bonnanfant of France, Karolien "Ka" Dorsman of Holland; and seniors Mayumi Watnabe of Japan, Oyundelger "Oyuka" Sereeter of Mongolia, Bunyamin "Benji" Aksoy of Germany, Kam Shing "Tony" Cheung of Hong Kong, Jorge Sanchez of Mexico and Elson Silva from Brazil.
The new students, whose No. 1 priority is to learn English, have already experienced a variety of American activities like horseback riding, an Eastern Oregon University football game, a trip to the Oregon coast, shopping at Portland and recently embarked on a recent trip to the forest for a woodcutting adventure.
Five more foreign students live with area residents
The dormitory is set up to house only eight foreign exchange students, so families in the community opened their homes to five more young men who arrived for the 2002-03 school year.
Elmer and Ila Bennett have taken in two foreign exchange students, Ilirjan Miftari of Kosovo and Mike Dreher from Germany. When Long Creek School's dorm parents take their monthly weekend break, the Bennetts fill in.
Mike and Myla Corley are hosting Teerachot "Best" Chirasrirungson of Thailand, Alvin and Linda Hunt have opened their home to Denis Kurylenko of the Ukraine, and Dan and Robin Harold of Ritter made room for Jim Hsu of Taiwan.
Share/learn opportunity available through mentor program
A Mentor Family Program has been initiated to further enrich the students' experiences. Through the school, there are various opportunities to exchange information. But beyond that, there is an opportunity for the community to also reach out and include them - and perhaps learn something new.
"It's nice to have the students bring some of their culture here, to interact with the community," said Anita.
She added that the youth are proud of their families and countries and are interested in sharing about their homelands' cultures, traditions, foods and their varied personal interests such as art and sports. Some of them also are well-traveled outside their home countries.
The Griffiths are no strangers to Long Creek. Anita Leathers was raised in Long Creek and after high school graduation moved to Portland and married Larry Griffith. The family moved back to Long Creek to raise their two daughters, Janel Hunt, who resides at Long Creek, and Jennifer Griffith of La Grande. In 1987, they hosted the first exchange student to attend Long Creek School, a girl from Japan. They later housed a German girl through the Youth for Understanding Program.
Serving as dorm parents is a full-time job and can be very rewarding - and challenging, the Griffiths noted. At first homework was a big struggle because of the language barrier, but now things have improved. The Griffiths see the students interacting extremely well and all maintain a very high academic level. None of them had been exposed to an agricultural program like the school offers and all eight of the foreign exchange students have eagerly enrolled in drivers education.
As with anyone visiting a new country, the students are learning to adjust to a different culture, in addition to life in a rather small town. Many of them are from very large populated cities.
"I think that if you live in another country, it helps you understand what's happening when you see it in the news. You are more accepting and you learn tolerance," said Larry.