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Students recently had the opportunity to travel around the world in just one night — without ever leaving Calvert County.

International students living and studying in the county shared information about their home countries and their experiences living in the United States at a multicultural event hosted by the American Councils for International Education last week.

About 200 international students and community members filled classrooms 1 and 2 on Nov. 21 at the Calvert Library Prince Frederick to meet and learn from local students and those from other areas around the globe, including the Republic of Georgia, China, Nepal, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Finland and Burkina Faso.

“I didn’t know what to expect. … It kept growing and getting bigger,” Erin Knowles, local coordinator for the council and organizer of the event, said. “I wanted to create a community event so people could learn more international information.”

The American Councils for International Education is a placement organization that works with the federal state department to find available spaces for exchange students in the county.

Currently, there are 246 international students studying in Calvert County through scholarship and private exchange programs and enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) both in Calvert County Public Schools and at The Calverton School.

ESOL students, Hama Dicko, 18, and Rochnie Zanre, 16, are siblings from the West African nation of Burkina Faso who live in Lusby with their mother. Both have been in the U.S. less than a year and can speak English, though they knew none before arriving. The Calvert High School students said they enjoy taking the bus to school because in Africa they have to walk, and especially since the local weather is much colder than what they’re used to.

Ashley Reyes, 13, goes to Calvert Middle School and lives in Owings with her family. Originally from Monterey, Mexico, she also did not know English before arriving but now is fluent. In Mexico, she said, students do not have school inside a building like they do in the U.S., an aspect she likes about going to school in the states. Ashley said reading is her favorite subject, and she hopes to become an interior designer when she is older.

Another student, Mariam Chanshivili, 16, from the Republic of Georgia, is here on a U.S. sponsorship through the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program. The FLEX Program provides scholarships for high school students, ages 15 to 17, from Eurasia to spend an academic year in the United States, living with a family and attending an American high school, Knowles.

Pam Sheridan and her husband, Scott, of St. Leonard, welcomed Chanshivili into their home in September. As host parents, Sheridan said she and her husband had to learn about Chanshivili and the exchange process before she arrived. She said their role is to share American customs and traditions with Chanshivili as part of her experience.

A mother of two, Sheridan said caring for an exchange student is “a different kind of responsibility.”

Out of 6,000 students who applied for the exchange program, Chanshivili said she was one of 46 accepted. The straight “A” student said the screening process was rigorous, involving many interviews and writing essays.

“They’re screened so thoroughly that you have nothing to worry about,” Sheridan said. “It’s a great experience.”

As a junior at Calvert High, Chanshivili said she has studied English since she was 4. Unlike in Georgia, she was able to choose all her classes to study in the U.S. She also said she enjoys experiencing American celebrations, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving.

“I like trying the new food and getting information about all the traditions,” Chanshivili said. “It’s like in the movies.”

Chanshivili already has visited Annapolis and Washington, D.C., and Sheridan said they plan to take her to New York City, Niagra Falls, the Naval Academy and Lancaster, Pa., before she leaves in May.

Calvert County Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) attended the event “to see what it was all about.”

Shaw said when she was growing up, her family hosted an exchange student every year. She said her family and the students would get very attached, and she still keeps in touch with a woman in Japan her family hosted when she was 15 years old.

“You certainly learn there’s more than one way to think and be,” Shaw said. “… You see your own world from a different perspective. … It’s a wonderful learning experience.”

snewman@somdnews.com