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From Asian island to Whidbey Island

"Chia-Ying Li smiled shyly, blushing a little as her friends teased her.My favorite thing about America is the firefighters, she said. They are so strong and friendly - and so handsome.Li and 16 of her teen-age friends recently came to Oak Harbor from Taiwan and spent the month of July experiencing American culture and the English language. They left Whidbey Island Tuesday, on their way to Los Angeles before heading home. During their month on the island, the Taiwanese teens studied in a classroom setting each morning before taking tours of Whidbey and beyond.It was all part of Cultural Homestay International, a non-profit educational exchange program, founded in 1980 to allow students from the age 9 to 23 travel all over the world and stay with local host families. The parents of the students pay for the entire trip. Host families are expected to supply room and board.Mike Rice, a Coupeville teacher and coordinator of the trip, found host families and set up the itinerary for the girls. He also headed the English classes, which included homework such as memorizing vocabulary, studying grammar and putting the language into practice.For the Taiwanese students, the first surprise was that America was not as it is portrayed in the movies. Ting-Hsin Tang, the 28-year-old chaperone and mathematics teacher, said America is very different from Taiwan.There aren't so many houses (in Taiwan), mostly apartments, she said. It's not as green.The girls go to an all-girl high school in Taiwan from 7:20 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. They are quizzed each day and have more than three hours of homework each night. In America, there is more discussion in class, Tang said. I think that's good because it allows the girls to get a different education. She said the girls get too much homework and don't have enough time to round out their lives with social activities.For the trip, each of the Taiwanese girls chose an American name and took their host families' last name to make communication easier. Chia-Ling Peng chose Karen and was excited when she discovered a street named Karen.I found my street in America, she said proudly.The girls aren't so different from American teens. They like In Sync, Hansen, the Backstreet Boys and many other American pop singers. They also enjoy a few Taiwanese and Chinese singers such as Coco Lee and A-Mei. They have dreams of the future. Yi-Wen Tsai wants to become a lawyer. Hsiao-Wei Tung wants to be a reporter. Hsiao-Fan Yeh wants to be a diplomat. All said they plan on college.Last Friday, the girls took Whidbey Tours to the Buffalo farm south of Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Fort Casey, the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, Bowman Bay and La Conner. The girls love to sing, Tang said in the bus. They also love to talk about boys. Yu-Ching Peng met a boy at the Hungry Times Coffee Shop in La Conner and couldn't stop talking about him the entire trip back to Oak Harbor. She even asked to take a picture with him and wanted to find him again.He's very handsome, she said with dreamy eyes. He makes my heart beat strongly.They spent an hour in Coupeville shopping, another favorite pastime. Tang visited the Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville to learn about local history. She bought American family paper dolls to take to her 6-month-old daughter. Tang plans on two or three more children. In big cities in China, they can only have one child, but not in Taiwan, she said.At the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, the girls ran into Nathan Lindberg, an editor at Fidalgo This Week in Anacortes. They were excited because he could speak fluent Chinese. Lindberg spent five years in Taiwan and married a Taiwanese woman. They crowded around him, taking pictures.They said people in America are very nice.We love our host families, Chia-Ling Peng said emphatically. The girls around her agreed. "

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