Foreign exchange students wrap up year in Woodstock

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK — Before leaving on a plane headed back to her home country of Armenia on Thursday, Anush “Nushka” Petrosyan was able to say one final goodbye to the friends she made during the 10 months she lived in Woodstock.

Nushka, 17, is one of three foreign exchange students who attended Central High School this past year and experienced American culture firsthand.

The other two foreign exchange students are Taishi Ukai from Nagoya, Japan, and Anika Stein from Germany.

Nushka is from a town in Armenia called Dilijan, which is slightly larger than Woodstock and just as mountainous, though she said it lacks the wide range of activities that Woodstock offers.

“Sometimes my classmates here in America say it’s so boring in Woodstock,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘No, you are blessed that you have so much stuff to do.'”

This was her first time in the U.S., arriving in town on July 31.

One of the hardest adjustments for her was waking up earlier. In Armenia, Nushka said she typically wakes up at 8:30 a.m. and walks to school. Over the past year, she has had to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to take the bus to Central.

She said her favorite classes included theater arts and creative writing, which is not offered in Armenian schools.

“Here, you can write what you feel and how you feel and what you want to write,” she said. “I love it so much.”

She described life as more serious in Armenia.

“People work longer and school is a little bit harder than in America,” she said. “I think that here, people focus more on fun to enjoy their life, especially students my age.”

Nushka, who said she enjoyed watching “The Wonder Years” and listening to country music for the first time, learned how to play tennis and joined the school team, which she said was never an opportunity for her back home.

“It was one of my dreams to actually learn tennis and I am so glad my dream became true,” she said.

Before coming to the U.S., she said a common stereotype among Armenians is that Americans don’t have a sense of humor, but she quickly learned to understand American jokes.

“I got so adjusted to American humor that one day I was talking to my aunt in Armenia and she was like, ‘Oh, your American humor is killing me,'” Nushka said. “I was like, oh my God, it’s gonna be so hard for me to get adjusted to my own culture again.”

Nushka, who was a senior at Central, will repeat the 12th grade back in Armenia. She said she wants to become a diplomat.

“When I came here, I felt like an ambassador for my country, and I think it’s just wonderful to learn about different cultures and to share your culture with others,” she said.

She said she hopes to return to the U.S. someday and is going to miss her Woodstock friends.

“Everybody is like a part of my life and now it’s impossible to imagine my life without my American life,” she said.

Taishi, 16, arrived in Woodstock in August and will return to Japan next Saturday.

A soccer player since he was 6 years old, he experienced a standout year on the Central varsity squad (8-6-2).

Because the driving age in Japan is 18, he said he was surprised to see people his own age driving cars around the school.

He was similarly surprised to see students texting, eating snacks and, in the case of one student, falling asleep during class.

“That was pretty impressive,” He said. “I took a picture actually.”

Taishi has his sights set on becoming a Hollywood magician, and said his year here has been a good way to become more fluent and comfortable with speaking English in front of people.

He was afraid to dream big, he said, until watching John-Robert Rimel, a student at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School, sing on “Ellen” earlier this spring.

“He inspired me a lot, because he’s a student I knew…so I was like people who are general persons can become anything they want,” Taishi said. “Even I can be famous, so I got the confidence a little bit. That was the best thing I learned.”

Taishi, who has three years of high school remaining, said he might want to study psychology.

Nushka was hosted by Fred and Sue Hughes, and Taishi was hosted by Sal and Gail Vasta. Both students expressed how grateful they were for their host families.

Carol Nansel, extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Shenandoah County office, said more host families are always in high demand.

For families interested in hosting a foreign exchange student, contact her at 540-459-6140.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com