Foreign exchange: Knudsons hosting two international students from Brazil and Spain

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2019 6:00 am

Pedro Marodin and Victor Gonzalez have each wanted to experience life in the United States for years.

Steve and Andrea Knudson have always wanted the joy of having kids in their home in Kelso south of Hillsboro.

Thanks to a study-abroad program, all four have been able to come together to make their dreams come true.

The husband-and-wife duo have taken in Marodin and Gonzalez for the school year as part of the Forte International Exchange Association.

Both juniors at Hillsboro High School this year, the foreign teenagers will take in nine months of school and experiences here in the area thanks to the Knudsons rolling out the welcome mat.

“We had more to offer. We had more love to give,” says Andrea. “We have beautiful facilities here in Hillsboro. We should share that with other countries.”

The teenagers are getting a unique experience coming to the Upper Midwest.

Gonzalez hails from Madrid and says that the switch from a major European metropolitan area to rural North Dakota has been a bit of a culture shock.

“It’s very different from this,” the 16-year-old says. “The high school is different. The eating hours are different. The landscape. The behavior of the people.”

Though he lives in a sprawling city of 3.3 million people, Gonzalez comes from a small family.

His father is a commercial salesman and his mother works for a women’s shelter.

He has an 11-year-old brother and enjoys playing basketball and skating in his free time.

A junior at Hillsboro High School, Gonzalez is hoping to take the court for the Hillsboro-Central Valley boys basketball program later this fall when practices begin.

Until then, he is still settling into his role as a student in his new school.

“One thing I have noted is that in Spain, we talk a lot in class. Here, not so much,” Gonzalez says. “The facilities are much more modern than my school.”

Marodin echoes those feelings.

The 15-year-old traveled 33 total hours to Hillsboro from Curitiba, Brazil, a metropolitan area of more than 3 million people southwest of Sao Paolo in the Brazilian state of Parana.

Marodin’s parents are both business owners. His mom works as a confectionist and his dad serves as an electrical engineer. He also has an older sister.

In his spare time, he enjoys playing soccer and video games.

Like Gonzalez, Marodin says adjusting to rural North Dakota has been a big change.

His school in Curitiba has nearly 5,000 students and he says the streets are dangerous to walk alone.

Here, he says, he enjoys the people and the classes.

“I prefer the small schools where you can meet everybody,” Marodin says.

Neither student would have had the opportunity to visit America if not for the Knudsons.

Andrea is an activities aide with Luther Memorial Home in Mayville and Steve works as a forklift repairman with US Foods.

The Knudsons have never had kids so the study-abroad program has opened their eyes to a brand-new experience.

“They’re both pleasant young men,” Steve says. “They don’t talk back. They’re always asking if they can help.”

“Steve was excited to have boys who wanted to learn,” Andrea adds. “Here, he can teach them things like how to change the oil, how to drive and how to mow a lawn.”

The husband and wife were anxious to provide a home for an exchange student, but Andrea admits they had a tough time deciding on only one kid to host.

That’s when she and Steve figured having two kids would make life easier for everyone.

“I thought about how scary it would be to go halfway across the world without someone to share that with,” she says. “This way they’re learning everything together.”

Both teenagers said traveling to the United States is something they’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Gonzalez and Marodin are fluent in English, but both want to learn how to speak and write better to further their education in the future.

Leaving home was still difficult, however.

Gonzalez had second thoughts about getting on the jet, but made the 19-hour trip and arrived Aug. 15 in Fargo.

Marodin, who arrived a day later, said his parents were sad to see him go.

“But they were also happy for me,” he says. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for years.”

So far, the teenagers said the students and staff in Hillsboro have been welcoming.

“The students are always talking to us and asking questions,” Marodin says. “They are very curious about things.”

Students in Mary Germundson’s Spanish class have taken to using Gonzalez as a popular resource for help with their lessons, Andrea adds with a chuckle.

The Knudsons are looking to get both of their exchange students out in the community after getting settled in over the past month.

They’ve already been fishing in Minnesota and traveled to Warren, Minn. for a drive-in-movie.

Both are participating in the upcoming day of service in Hillsboro Sept. 28.

Through FCCLA, they also will assist with the Traill County Historical Society’s fall festival Sept. 22. 

However, Andrea is hoping the community will stop by Hillsboro’s Woodland Park on Sept. 21 to meet the teenagers and listen to both talk a little about their homes.

They will be serving root beer floats – something neither Marodin or Gonzalez has ever experienced. 

Andrea says so far the experience has surpassed her expectations and she and Steve couldn’t have asked for more respectful teenagers.

“Their parents wanted them to have a better education and appreciation for things, and they’ve taken it to the next level,” Andrea says.

“Being around them is a pleasure, and I’m glad we get to share this opportunity.”

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