European exchange students at Moffat County High School shatter stereotypes

Sasha Nelson

— Four exchange students from Europe are spending the school year at Moffat County High School, where they are shattering stereotypes, held both by others and themselves, as they adapt to life in rural America.

“I’ve been asked if I eat dog, because I’m Chinese. And if Spanish people like naps” said Linna Xia who is from Madrid, Spain.

For the record, Xia does not eat dog but loves naps. While such questions surprised her, she and her fellow exchange students believe addressing stereotypes is part of the experience.

“I’ve been asked if I drink wine and eat baguette and snails, if I’ll grow a mustache and if French girls shave,” said William Monsonnec who is from the large city of Nantes, France. “People here had a lot of stereotypes, but that’s OK.”

For the record, Monsonnec doesn’t drink wine, does eat baguettes (French bread) and snails (the culinary delicacy called escargot), doesn’t think he’ll grow a mustache and sincerely hopes the girls shave.

Andrea Fernandez from Villablino in Northern Spain and Jarno Saathoff from Herten, Germany are also spending the school year in Craig.

The question the four have been asked most frequently: is the United States better than their home countries?

“That’s the question you get the most, which do you like more,” Saathoff said.

It’s not a question of good versus bad, but rather learning about and adapting to the differences.

“Here it’s more like the high school musical, study is easier and you have a lot of things to do after school like sports and homecoming, dances and things,” said Fernandez. “There are a lot of activities in Spain that are not in the high school. When you have free time in Spain you go out with friends to parties and here people are always at home.”

The ability to choose their classes, lockers, free yellow school bus service, free time, school sports and the landscape are all items that the students wished they could take back home.

“I live out of town on a little ranch. In my hometown you can’t really go out of town. So that is a big difference that I really like,” Saathoff said. “I can feed the horses and open the chickens and always have fresh eggs. It’s a good experience I don’t think I have gotten anywhere else.”

An American stereotype that was confirmed during their first trips to area stores is the availability of guns.

“Having guns in Walmart is weird,” Fernandez said.

Guns are not as visible in Europe.

“Here you can get your beer and your guns,” Saathoff said jokingly. “Hunting season in our town is one week for geese in the park that gets closed down.”

Craig deer and the landscape of Moffat County have charmed the students.

“The landscape is a lot different,” Xia said. “I like it a lot. It’s different from what I’m used to, all the snow and the mountains and the deer.”

The people of Moffat County have also charmed the students.

“People here are nicer. They smile and ask how you are,” Monsonnec said. “We don’t have that in my home country. My county might be more cold in a way, but that’s OK.”

Exchange programs are coordinated through organizations in each of the student’s home countries and in the U.S. by the International Cultural Exchange Services, which uses a network of area coordinators to place students with host families.

“We should thank our host family. It’s like a second family now,” Monsonnec said. “I will be thankful that they housed me there.”

His hosts are Patrick and Alexandria Hering. Saathoff has become part of Kim and Bill Srio’s family. Fernandez is staying with Alexis Hanes, who is one of the program coordinators. Xia is staying with Aubrey Wilkey, the other area coordinator.

Hanes and Wilkey are seeking host families for the 2017-18 school year.

“These are amazing kids, they have their own medical insurance, spending money and want to experience America,” according to the Craig ICES Facebook page. “Not only are you changing their life, you are adding more culture into our community and broadening the horizons of our children.”

For information about the program or becoming a host family email

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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