By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN As Blanca Guarcas jokes with Ken and Lori Pelzel (her host family in Lester Prairie), it’s hard to believe she learned English only a few years ago.
Blanca first came to the United States in 2010, when she attended a year of school in North Carolina.
“It was really hard for me,” Blanca recalls. “I didn’t understand any words at all. I wanted to talk with my friends, but I didn’t know what to say.”
Little by little, though, she learned. Name tags were placed on objects throughout the house, and Blanca spent about two hours each day focusing solely on English in addition to her regular homework.
After about three months, Blanca said she knew enough English to “talk and explain important things.”
Three years at HT
The following year, Blanca came to Holy Trinity High School in Winsted. She stayed with Tracy and Roxanne Felder, who also hosted Rossy Sical and Mirian Gutierrez. All three girls were part of the Guatemalan Student Support Group (GSSG).
The GSSG program gives poverty-stricken Guatemalan youth an opportunity to receive a high school and college education in the US. Students are then asked to “pay it forward” by returning to their home country to bring about change in the villages where they grew up.
“We need a lot of help in Guatemala,” Blanca said, adding that she plans to earn a degree in psychology and social work.
When she was a young child, Blanca lived with her grandmother south of Guatemala City (her mother passed away during childbirth). After her grandma died, Blanca went to stay with her aunt and uncle.
Blanca describes Guatemala as a country with “great mountains, and a lot of lakes. It’s so beautiful. It’s a very tropical area.”
The school day is shorter there, and runs from about 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Afterward, students usually have lunch at home and head to their jobs. In Guatemala, Blanca worked at a clothing store and a hotel, and did babysitting.
She first came to live with the Pelzel family in Lester Prairie for the 2012-13 school year, her second year in Minnesota. Blanca then returned for the 2013-14 school year, and graduated with Holy Trinity’s class of 2014.
All an adventure
So far, the Pelzels have hosted seven students three from Guatemala, one from Germany, one from Thailand, one from Vietnam, and one from South Korea.
“They’ve all been an adventure,” Ken said.
Ken and Lori’s daughter, Julia, who is a freshman at Holy Trinity High School, said it’s fun to have the exchange students as company, especially since her older sister, Gwen, is no longer living at home. (Gwen graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 2010, and is getting married this summer. She is working toward a career in music therapy.)
Blanca has many fond memories of her time with the Pelzels, such as going to the movies, taking shopping trips, and visiting Lori’s family in Park Rapids.
“In Minnesota, there are very nice people,” Blanca said. “They are so generous, and they like to help each other. You feel like family when you talk to them.”
Blanca plans to leave Minnesota Thursday, and spend two weeks in North Carolina to register for college. Then, she’ll go to Guatemala until classes in North Carolina start in the fall.
After she completes her education, Blanca is looking forward to heading back to Guatemala long-term.
“That’s where I was born, and it’s where I want to live for the rest of my life,” she said. “I love the US, but Guatemala is my home.”