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Transition smooth for exchange student

November 12, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - In his third month as a Williamsport Rotary Club exchange student, Lalo Elorriaga is proud that he now can solo in most situations where only English is spoken.

"It gets a little easier each day," Elorriaga said. The 16-year-old native of Vera Cruz, Mexico, is spending his junior year at Williamsport High School. The Rotary Club is sponsoring his stay.

Currently staying with Jane and David Smith at their Halfway home, Elorriaga is pals with their son, Matt, also a Williamsport junior. Both are members of the Williamsport soccer team.

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"Lalo's a lot better at English than I am at Spanish," Matt Smith said.

Rotary President Mike Guessford said the club occasionally sponsors exchange students. "We have a Williamsport student - Bridgette Rice - studying in Europe with a Rotary Club there supporting her," Guessford said.

Williamsport Spanish teacher Peggy Baer said having an exchange student is a win-win situation for her and her students.

"There is nothing better than having a foreign exchange student to help our kids see why learning a language is so important," Baer said. "I wish more of our students would."

Elorriaga said he visited the United States briefly when he was 4. "My teacher in Mexico went to New York as an exchange student and my parents liked that idea," he said.

His mother is an English teacher in Vera Cruz so Elorriaga has been taking classes. Perhaps the biggest shock for him was the size of Williamsport High School since Elorriaga's home school only has 100 students.

"There are more rules here," Elorriaga said, referring to what young people can and cannot do. "In Mexico, I start school at 7 a.m. and am finished by 1 p.m. In the summers, I worked in a hardware store."

Guessford said the transition has been fairly smooth so far for Elorriaga. He and an appointed liaison in the Rotary always are on the lookout for any problems.

Elorriaga said he enjoys being on the soccer team, on which he plays striker. "I went to homecoming recently with a girl who is my friend," Elorriaga said. "We don't have dances like that where I live in Mexico, but I liked it."

Like a good diplomat, Elorriaga said he is fond of both the music of America and of his homeland.

After soccer season is over, Guessford said club members are planning some day trips for Elorriaga, such as to Washington, D.C. And he will be moving in with the Brady Myers family after Thanksgiving, Guessford said.

The Rotarians had a reception for Elorriaga and plan to have him give some talks in the community, Guessford said.

"I have a 15-year-old son and I'll encourage him to be an exchange student if he wants to," Guessford said. "It certainly is a great way to learn about other cultures."

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