The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

September 9, 2013

SouthWest FFA hosts foreign exchange students


TARBORO — The Agricultural Program at SouthWest Edgecombe High School has been on the incline in recent years and that is the aim for Shelley Armour, the Ag teacher at SouthWest. As a testament to this, Hali Pavelka, an 11th grade student at SouthWest, and her family hosted two Japanese teenagers from Tokyo.  

“I am the chaplain for Future Farmers of America and because I wanted to take a leadership role in FFA, I thought I would be a leader in hosting these foreign exchange students,” said Pavelka.    “I love Ag. I love learning about the agriculture around me. The Ag program shows that students like me learn best by doing things and that’s also why I wanted to take advantage of the Foreign Exchange program.”

The Foreign Exchange program works by having students who are members of the Future Farmers of Japan come to the United States to visit students who are members of the Future Farmers of America. The intent of this program is for the foreign exchange students to experience life as a teenager, to learn about the American culture, and to share their cultural experiences with the American hosts.

Armour was excited about the chance to be a link for such a program.  

“The SouthWest Edgecombe Chapter of FFA was given this opportunity as a part of being involved with the North Carolina FFA,” Armour stated. “It’s amazing the things that we can get our students involved in.  This is just the beginning.”

Pavelka explained that she learned a tremendous amount from hosting the two Japanese students, Haruku and NaNa. “It’s amazing how different our land is from theirs because, in comparison, our fields are large.  It’s all city in Tokyo and it’s not anything like ours.”

“On their farms, they grow rice, cucumbers, and zucchini.  Here, we grow tobacco and cotton.  They were like ‘What is that?’  It was cute,” said Pavelka. “I know a farmer down the road from me.  They got to see him prime tobacco.”

When asked what she observed as the greatest difference between the Japanese teenagers and American teenagers she knows, Pavelka said “They’re really, really disciplined. For example, NaNa performed a tea ceremony and it didn’t come out the way she wanted it, so she was so disappointed. It’s as if everything they do is analyzed so much that if it’s not perfect, they feel like they’ve failed.”

Pavelka smiled, “And they’re also so helpful.  They’re the perfect house guests.”

Explaining that because America is the land of opportunity, Pavelka theorized that Haruku and NaNa wanted to come see the American structure. “They also loved all American food and they said they just had to take some American shoes back with them.”

Pavelka says she still keeps in contact with the girls. “NaNa emails me because she doesn’t speak very good English and she has to translate using the computer.  While she was here, I took her to get a cheese biscuit.  She emailed me saying that she misses the cheese pies she tasted here.  That was the most adorable message I’ve ever got.”

Pavelka expressed that she really came to love Haruku and Nana. “I didn’t want them to leave.  When they were leaving, they cried. I cried. My mother cried. We all cried,” said Pavelka. “I wish they could’ve stayed longer, but then I wouldn’t have let them go home.”  

“I want to run for President of FFA.  I’ve just got to make sure other people get this same experience,” added Pavelka.