Student benefits from exchange program

Derrek Vaughn | The Valdosta Daily TimesMonika Kubesova and Victoria Bergeson arrive for swimming practice. Bergeson's family is hosting Kubesova, an exchange student from the Czech Republic.

VALDOSTA — Five thousand miles away from her homeland, Czech Republic native Monika Kubesova said she likes America and is “so happy to be here.” 

“Everything is a good experience,” she said. “The swimming, my new family, I can say I am happy.”

Four months ago, the 17-year-old traveled overseas as part of a 10-month-long program with the Council on International Educational Exchange .

After a rocky start with her former host family, Kubesova is pleased to be with her new host mom, Alice Bergeson, and her new host sister, Victoria Bergeson.

She swims with Victoria for the Valdosta Aquatics Swim Team and attends Lowndes High School as a junior honors student where Victoria is a sophomore. 

“She’s a very good influence in the house,” Alice Bergeson said. “Victoria really loves having her around, they get along really well. They’re singing all the time, they’re so happy all the time.”

She said the girls assist one another with homework and that Kubesova has a positive impact on Victoria.

Seemingly, Kubesova has adjusted well to the cultural differences between her home country and America, and said eating burritos and shopping at the retail store T.J. Maxx are among her favorite pastimes here.

Fried foods, cold temperatures and boxed foods are a few of the dislikes the exchange student has experienced while here in Valdosta.

The Bergesons have accepted Kubesova as a member of the family.

“I try to give her a hug goodnight when I hug Victoria goodnight,” Alice Bergeson said, “and I ask her a lot ‘are you OK, are you all right, do you need anything?’”

Kubesova said she believes she will cry when her time comes to leave the Bergesons but hopes to one day visit them again in her home country.

Kubesova is just one of seven students who have participated in the CIEE program in 2017, according to Rebecca Kung, high school inbound coordinator. 

Kung said 12 students will need to be placed next year.

“I think (hosting) is a great opportunity for this area,” Kung said. “Being from a bigger city, I see a lot of diversity; here not so much. So, I think it’s a really good opportunity and chance for this community to see what else is around.”

Kung places students at Valdosta High School, Lanier County High School, Berrien High School and Lowndes for CIEE, she said. Italy, Germany, South Korea, Slovakia and China are a few of the countries that students come from through CIEE.

A former exchange student herself who visited Shanghai, China, Kung said she didn’t feel any form of homesickness and enjoyed her experience.

“I loved it,” she said. “The most challenging part about that is coming back and the reverse culture shock of being back in the United States.”

Anyone wishing to host must be at least 25 years old or older, have a financially sound background and provide a bed and three meals for the student. They can be married, single or an empty-nester.

To learn about the extensive hosting criteria, visit ciee.org, or call Kung at (520) 907-9738. 

Amanda Usher is a reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times. She can be contacted at 229-244-3400 ext.1274.

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