Belgian, Bulgarian Exchange Students Bring a New Element of Culture to MHS

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By Sierra Gamayon
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(Photo courtesy of Lukas Baars (11)) Like most exchange programs, the ones that Baars and Atanasov went through offer the chance to have a diverse living and learning experience.

Hawaii is a state that is known for its diversity, so when two foreign exchange students from Belgium and Bulgaria came to MHS for the school year, they got to experience what the island had to offer from students and teachers alike. While Junior Lukas Baars has been at MHS for four months, Junior Kancho “Kiko” Atanasov has been enrolled for only a few weeks after transferring from Hilo High School. Both students were selected to participate in exchange programs that required them to take tests to show they are proficient in English and are independent enough to live in a foreign country. They also participated in interviews meant to show they are fit to represent their respective countries.

“I’ve been to many countries in Europe: some examples are Germany, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Italy and others. Hawaii has been my favorite (place) so far,” said Atanasov. “It’s the people here, everyone is nice, polite and very willing to help you if you need it.”

Dedicating much of their time to pass all the required qualifications in order to prove they are worthy of representing their schools or programs, both students have worked hard for a chance to live in Hawaii. “When I was in ninth grade I participated in The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, I made it all the way to the second round but I didn’t advance. But in the tenth grade I decided to try again because I had nothing to lose so I tried again and I moved on. There are only eight people selected from Bulgaria and usually they say the best ones come to Hawaii,” said Atanasov.

Though both of these students come from different places on the globe, they have managed to find immediate friends and comfort here in Hawaii. “I have been here for four months now and I can say that it wasn’t easy for me to live in another culture, because in Germany everything is different; the food and the drinks, the people, the school and much more was so different for me, but I think after the first week it became normal,” said Baars.

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(Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Schiller)

The idea of coming to the island was an exciting prospect for both students. “I am very interested in the Hawaiian culture and history because it was one of the only parts of the U.S.A. I really never heard anything about,” said Baars. Astanov added, “I was freaking out (when I got told I was coming here) I was so happy and excited. I was quite amazed that it all was happening.”

Taking on the responsibility of housing Astanov, Lt. Col. Timothy Schiller has participated in foreign exchange programs like thhese many times before. “We signed up to host foreign exchange students about seven years ago. With (Atanasov), it is our ninth foreign exchange student. Once you get certified they have to come out and look at your house and all this stuff, interview all the family members, make sure everything’s safe and the kids got a bedroom. Then they send you a kid, and once you are in there, they ask you every year if you want another kid. That’s what happened this year, they asked us in August and we said ‘yes’ and  they sent us this girl from Germany, and then (Astanov) was an add on,” said Schiller.

These students have had the opportunity to experience new things and share these experiences with the people around them. “He’s an awesome kid, (he is) very helpful around the house, always asking if he can help cut the grass or wash the cars and he’s always looking for ways to earn his keep. He takes walks with my dog Charlie as well,” said Schiller. “It’s cool because you get to learn about their culture (while) they learn about your culture. It’s kind of like having more children. As students you would like if you were to go to a foreign country to be taken care of (so) your parents don’t have to worry about you.”

Both Atanasov and Baars will be leaving in June to complete high school in their home countries, however with the memories and experiences they have had, they both plan on returning to Hawaii sometime in their lives, whether to visit or attend school.