By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN “The first moment when I got off the plane, I was very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect,” said Madina Akzhanova, a native of Kazakhstan who is spending her senior year at Lester Prairie High School.
The nervousness quickly wore off, though, and now, Madina couldn’t be happier at her home-away-from-home.
“I like this school; it’s a very good school,” she said. “The teachers are very good, and they help me if I need it. Everyone is very nice.”
With her warm smile and contagious optimism, Madina has been a joy for her host parents, Rod and Stacey Horton of Plato, who selected Madina based on her exchange student application.
“We liked her letter it was so upbeat,” Stacey said.
Learning English is one reason Madina wanted to study in America.
“In our country, English is very important,” she said. “My English was very bad.”
After just a short time being immersed in the language, though, she has become completely comfortable conversing.
Madina is also fluent in Kazakh and Russian, and has started learning Spanish at Lester Prairie High School
“I like all the classes, especially Spanish and psychology,” she said.
In the future, Madina plans to study journalism and pursue an international career path.
“It’s my dream,” she said.
Madina is one of seven foreigners studying in Lester Prairie this year, and has also made friends with exchange students from schools throughout the region.
“We went to an event with other exchange students, and the Lester kids were the only ones who said they like their school,” Stacey said.
Brrr . . . that’s cold
Madina’s home city of Petropavlovsk, the capital of the North Kazakhstan Province (close to the Russian border), is known for long, harsh winters.
“It’s colder than here,” Madina said.
According to AboutKazakhstan.com, the average temperature in January is -2 F, and the average temperature in July is 66 F.
In contrast, the Twin Cities’ average is 13 F in January, and 73 F in July.
This winter, Madina is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with her host family.
“We don’t celebrate Christmas in Kazakhstan, but we celebrate New Year’s,” she said.
Kazakhstan also celebrates International Women’s Day March 8, and Defender of the Fatherland Day (known as Men’s Day) May 7.
For Rod and Stacey, learning about the customs of other countries is one perk of having exchange students.
Each time they host, the Hortons buy a cookbook with recipes from their student’s native country.
“For us, it’s fun to see what they eat, and try their food,” Stacey explained.
Earlier in the school year, for example, the family made Russian beetroot soup, with beets and red cabbage fresh from their garden.
Madina is fond of American cuisine, too.
“Food is different here, but it’s good,” she said. “Pizza and salsa are my favorite.”