Exchange program allows teen to experience local culture
Visiting Barry County through the Cultural Academic Student Exchange (CASE) program has not only allowed Amanda Arenhardt to experience culture in a small American town, she has also been able to live one of her dreams on the sidelines of each Cassville Wildcat football game.
"We don't have cheerleading in Brazil," said Arenhardt, who is enrolled as a senior at Cassville High School. "We don't have football, just soccer. We watch cheerleading in movies, and it has always been my dream to be a cheerleader.
"I really like how competitive the students are," said Arenhardt. "It is really exciting. I hope we go to state in St. Louis. That would be amazing."
Arenhardt began her visit to Barry County in August. She is currently staying with host parents, Teresa and Floyd Lewis, who live on Table Rock Lake near Big M Marina.
"I love to travel around the world," said Arenhardt. "It is amazing to see how different each country and culture is. It is amazing to meet new people. I get to have a new life here and still have my old life, family and friends back home."
Although this is Arenhardt's first visit to the Missouri Ozarks, it is her fourth trip to the United States. During past vacations with her family, she visited New York, New Jersey, California, Las Vegas, Nev., and Florida.
"This area is a lot different from where I am from," said Arenhardt. "It is hard to get used to a small town when you are from a big city. Everything is different here."
Back home in Brazil, Arenhardt said she spends a lot of time traveling to other cities with her friends and family.
"I miss home," said Arenhardt, "but I talk to my family every week, and I talk to my friends through email. I miss them a lot too."
During her visit to southwest Missouri, Arenhardt has had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the Lewis family. She has met many members of Teresa and Floyd's extended family.
The Lewises also took Arenhardt to visit Branson and Kansas City and several local attractions, including Roaring River State Park and Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage.
"A lot of the things we have taken her to she hasn't really enjoyed, but she is a good sport and is always ready to go," said Teresa. "We took her to the truck and tractor pull and the demolition derby. She thought it was crazy that they were running into each other on purpose.
"We are trying to show her things she might never see in Brazil," said Teresa. "She will get to go to her first Christmas parade this year. Actually, she will probably be in the parade as a cheerleader.
"She's done a lot for us since she has been here," said Teresa. "We never went to a football game before this year, but it has been really exciting to go and be a part of that. We even got to take part in senior night. Our children weren't involved in the same things, so it has been an exciting new experience for us too."
The Lewises plan to take Arenhardt to the Silver Dollar City Christmas Festival of Lights during the holiday season. They are also excited to share their Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions with her this year.
"They don't have the same holidays in Brazil," said Teresa. "During Halloween, she carved her first pumpkin."
Teresa and Floyd have also enjoyed taking Arenhardt to many of the exchange student gatherings held in Missouri. During these events, Arenhardt has the opportunity to meet and socialize with other students visiting the United States through the program.
"She's always up for something new," said Arenhardt. "A lot of teens wouldn't want to go, but she is always ready, which makes it so much fun for us too."
Arenhardt will continue to attend Cassville High School through the end of the school year. She will even have the opportunity to participate in commencement ceremonies with her new friends.
"The students have really welcomed me," said Arenhardt. "Everyone is really friendly and interested in Brazil, which is really cool.
"I love school here," said Arenhardt. "It is completely different than in Brazil. We don't have lunch. We have class from 8 a.m. to noon, and then we go home. We wear uniforms, and we don't get to choose our classes. We also don't change rooms, the teachers change."
In addition to the school class structure, Arenhardt said that she loves the way students are so interested in a variety of sports at Cassville High School.
When she leaves Barry County in May, Arenhardt will return to Brazil to finish the last six months of her secondary education. After graduating from high school, she plans to study for the medical school entrance exam in Brazil. Her goal is to one day work as a psychiatrist who helps individuals battling addictions and mental illnesses.
"More people should get involved," said Teresa. "There are a lot of kids who want to come, but there are not host families for them. Amanda was on the waiting list for two years before she had the opportunity to come.
"It doesn't cost anything to host a student," said Teresa. "You are just required to provide them with a room and food.
"I would like people to know how enjoyable and friendly exchange students are and what a wonderful experience it is to serve as a host family," added Teresa. "She has brought so much joy to our lives."