That changed Aug. 9 when Quynh Phueng "Polly" Nguyen, 17, of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was greeted by her surrogate parents for the next 10 months, Bob and Helen Rogers.
Polly, who will graduate with the 2008 Viola senior class, said she was intrigued by the idea of visiting America. She said being a foreign exchange student was a great opportunity for her to experience new things, plus it gave her the opportunity "to improve her English."
Though she has fit right in with the Rogers, coming to Viola was still a major adjustment, she said.
One major difference is the school system. In Vietnam students attend classes six days a week; classes are generally composed of 40-50 students; and the teachers rotate classes instead of the students. "It's hard to compare," Polly said of American and Vietnam schools. "There are some of the same classes (offered in both countries) and some here that aren't (in Vietnam)," she said referring specifically to her child development class.
Polly said eating American food was also quite a change. Rice has always been a staple of Polly's diet, but she said she did like some of the foods she had been introduced to such as hamburgers and pizza. "And I had never had tacos. I like the Mexican food," Polly said.
Adjusting to cars took some practice as well. In a city of nine million, cars are hard to maneuver, so most people drive motorcycles, Polly said.
"She wasn't really used to cars; she got kind of car sick," Helen said. "But she's doing great -- she's even graduated to the back seat."
Despite the differences in cultures, Polly said her peers have been helpful. Polly shares classes with some kids who attend the Rogers' church, and they helped her find classes and introduced her to teachers during the beginning of the school year, she said. "I haven't had any problems; everyone's been good," Polly said.
The biggest obstacle Polly continues to struggle with is understanding some of the local slang. "Her English has really improved already in the small amount of time she's been here. But some things just don't translate. Like the other day I told her to 'shake a leg,'" Bob laughed.
"Yeah and she heard 'chewin' the fat.' The literal translation isn't the meaning," Helen laughed. "Who knows, we might send her home talking like a hillbilly."
Polly smiled and laughed with the Rogers then asked what a hillbilly was.