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WORLD TRAVELERS THEY BROUGHT BACK WARM MEMORIES AND NEW IDEAS

WORLD TRAVELERS THEY BROUGHT BACK WARM MEMORIES AND NEW IDEAS

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Karmen Garner got terrified in a taxi.

Katherine Farrier got groped on a subway.Rana Tayyarah got hit by a car.

But there are better reasons each will remember her month spent in a foreign land as part of the Guilford County School System's Summer Study Abroad program.

The three were among 19 high school students who went to Mexico, France or West Germany this summer to live with host families, attend classes and tour the countryside.

They learned to put aside preconceived notions about other countries as their eyes were opened to new ways of life.

And they discovered new levels of confidence in themselves as they realized they really could get along in another land with the two or more years of language training they had.

``I was just so amazed at what I could do,' said Sylvan Allen, a Southwest High junior who went to Mexico from June 20 to July 18.

``It was great. I learned a lot. My mind's more open now than before,' said Laurie Wilson, a Ragsdale High senior who spent June 28 to July 23 in France.

``I learned a lot about myself,' added Farrier, a Southwest senior who also went to Mexico.

``Maybe I grew up a bit while I was there. I became a bit more independent. I know I could survive on my own now,' Farrier said.

Although not, perhaps, without some patience from foreign hosts.

Bethany Conner, a Southwest senior who went to Germany, had to ride a bicycle four kilometers each day from the home in which she was staying to the morning classes she attended. She got a cramp in her leg, but that's not what she told her host ``mother.'

``I said, 'My tree hurts.' '

``She started laughing,' Conner said.

It Conner a while to realize she had used the word Baum, which means tree, instead of Beine, which means leg.

Farrier said the Mexicans she met were ``very forgiving of all the mistakes I made.'

Garner, a Southwest senior who also went to Mexico, added, ``They seemed so pleased that we were trying to speak their language.'

Well, that was the purpose of the trip. Spending a month abroad and living with host families gave the students a total-immersion experience in a foreign language.

It's an effect that couldn't be achieved in a week-long group tour, in which the students would interact more with each other than with the residents of the country they were studying.

This summer was the fourth year the county schools sponsored a Study Abroad Program, said Suzan Ayers, a Spanish teacher at Southwest who was one of the program's original coordinators.

She didn't travel this summer. Instead, Southwest Spanish teacher Benilde Proscia accompanied nine students to Puebla, Mexico, while Eleanor Link, a French teacher at Southern Guilford, took eight more to Royan, France.

Two other students went to West Germany individually. Conner went to Wolsenbuttel, while Michael Gale of Western Guilford went to Marbach am Neckar.

The Guilford school system contracts with operators of foreign study programs to set up the visits. Classes, which last a few hours a day, are an important part of the programs.

The curriculum included history, grammar and language conversation. The students were graded on their work.

Even the teachers went to school.

``I went there to observe their teaching methodology,' Proscia said. ``I was curious.'

The cost ranged from $1,550 for the Mexico trip to nearly $3,000 for the France package. Some students received financial aid, thanks to the Greensboro Jaycees, the Mary Norris Preyer Fund and individual school fund-raising projects that supplemented the school system's budget.

The 50 applicants were winnowed down on the basis of teacher recommendations and essays.

Ayers said the organizers looked for students who seemed like they ``would go into situations with open minds' and had ``given some thought to more global types of issues.'

The program is not limited to Guilford students. Although none of the High Point applicants were selected this year, one student from the Greensboro schools was.

Tayyarah, the young women who got hit by a car (she was riding a bike and forgot to look both ways) is a senior at Smith this year.

Her only injuries were bruises, but her language skills were strained as concerned French people clustered around.

She tried to convince them she didn't need an ambulance, but she ended up riding to a hospital anyway, where there was more explaining to do for the doctors. Fortunately, Link arrived soon to help her out.

The students who went to Mexico relied on public transportation instead of bicycles.

The subway in Mexico City was so packed the standing passengers could barely move their arms.

Somehow, though, while the young women were unable to turn and see what was going on, a lot of arms seemed to move toward them, Farrier said. The students coined an expression for that phenomenon: ``muchos manos,' meaning ``many hands.'

Garner said the taxi ride from the airport was pretty scary. Drivers didn't seem to take stop signs very seriously.

``They'll stop sometimes, or maybe they'll yield or maybe they'll just honk their horns,' she said.

Allen figured out the system.

``The main goal was not to hit the car in front of you. If you didn't do that, you were OK.'

Reuben Glass agreed the traffic in Mexican cities was ``pretty horrendous,' but pointed out that ``they've got a lot, lot more cars packed in a lot less space' than most American cities.

``I'd have to say the drivers were actually better there. They were quite courteous,' Glass said.

While all the travelers learned to live in cultures that differ from the American way of life, there were some marked contrasts between the Mexican and French experiences.

The visitors to Mexico were cautioned not to wear shorts.

``When women wear shorts, the people see them as streetwalkers,' Garner explained.

But an appearance that might be judged immodest here was perfectly acceptable there.

``We saw Mexican women with very tight jeans and all this lipstick and makeup,' Garner continued. ``They think it's just gorgeous.'

While the students who visited Mexico were wrapping bathrobes over their pajamas and stepping into slippers just to make a socially acceptable trip from the bedroom to the bathroom, the students in France were walking to the beach to find many of the women there sunbathing topless.

``It's one thing to talk about a topless beach,' said Link, ``but it's another thing to actually be there - to be wearing a bathing suit and feel overdressed.'

But once French people dress, they stay dressed, Tayyarah noticed.

``They wear clothes a few days in a row,' she said.

The students didn't see each other the first few days as they settled in with their hosts.

``When we all got together, we said, 'Is your family still wearing the same clothes? My family changed clothes today.' '

Glass, who graduated from Northeast High in June and is living in Fort Wayne, Ind., said he found Mexicans to be ``a very noble people.'

``There were quite a few luxuries that I missed from the United States,' he added, ``but as far as the people were concerned, I'd be very happy to go back and stay longer.'

Conner, too, came to love the country she was visiting.

Although she had been homesick during her first two or three days in Germany, ``the last night we were there, I found myself crying because we were about to leave.'

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