Truly a Cultural Exchange: An F-1 Participant and Host Family Spotlight

Trinh Nguyen, or “Trina” as her host family calls her, has experienced true cultural exchange in numerous ways since she arrived in the U.S. this past autumn.  She has found opportunities to share her culture with others while taking in new aspects of American culture every day.

Trinh arrived in Red Creek, New York in September 2014, to complete her senior year at Red Creek High School and participate in Greenheart’s F-1 High School Academic Program. When she first arrived, she was shy and had some trouble understanding the fast-paced English in school. Her host parents, Christine and Wayne Wilkins, agreed that there was some difficulty in communication at the beginning of Trinh’s stay, but they found a solution in technology to help understand each other better. They downloaded an app on their phones called Translator! Says host Mom, Christine, “We used the translator a lot when she first got here. Every time I wanted to say something to her and she kind of gave me that puzzled look… we used the translator.” Now, almost 6 months into Trinh’s stay in the U.S., they only use the app “once in a blue moon.” Trinh agrees that her English has improved a lot and that she feels a lot more comfortable speaking at home and at school.

"Trina's" Christmas ornament, handmade by the Wilkins... because she loves Venison!

Trinh’s venison-themed Christmas ornament

Trinh and the Wilkins have found many ways to teach each other and learn about one another’s cultures. One way they do this is in the kitchen. Trinh has cooked traditional Vietnamese food for her host parents, and Christine has prepared some Vietnamese recipes for Trinh as well, to make her feel more at home. To share some of their own culture, the Wilkins have cooked venison for Trinh. It took Trinh a little while to realize that they had actually

hunted the deer on their own, but once she understood what she was eating, she couldn’t get enough of it. According to her host parents, Trinh is now constantly requesting venison for dinner.

The Wilkins’ have also had the pleasure of teaching Trinh about American culture through the holidays.

“She had ‘firsts’ of everything with us. She never did Halloween, so we took her to a big, huge Halloween store and she went trick-or-treating. And she’s never seen snow! I video taped her swimming in the snow. She actually fell backwards and was just swimming the snow.”

Christine emphasized that of all the holidays, celebrating Christmas with Trinh was their favorite memory so far.

“We don’t give a lot of things for Christmas, it’s more so family, we just try and be with each other. Just her being able to experience a Christmas tree and the opening of gifts, family coming to the house and having dinner, and just the feeling of Christmas. That was the biggest thing for us, to give her the first of things that she’s not ever had.”

The cultural exchange doesn’t end there. When she had a week off of school, Trinh took the opportunity to volunteer at a nearby children’s museum. The theme for the week was “Around the World” and each day the kids learned about different cultures. Trinh spent time learning about a variety of African, Asian and European cultures, as well as teaching the children a bit about her own.

“I teach them a lot. They don’t know much about Vietnam but now I think some of them know about it. I told them in Vietnam we have different weather and we don’t have fast food. Every meal we have soup, fried vegetable, pork or beef, we always eat with rice, and we use chopsticks. We don’t celebrate Christmas and we celebrate at the New Year, but our New Year, because we’re different calendar, we celebrate in February.”

Trinh with other exchange students teaching children about their cultures

Trinh with other exchange students teaching children about their cultures

The Wilkins’ completely supported Trinh’s participation in the week-long event at the children’s museum and are proud of her for making the most of it. They said they aim to help her grow as a person while she’s here in the U.S.

Happiness, curiousity and gratitude were the emotions expressed by Christine, Wayne and Trinh when discussing their cultural exchange experience with  Greenheart’s F-1 Program this year.