International students enjoy time in Jonesboro

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JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Ridgefield Christian School senior Suntakorn “Ming” Nitiparksagul learned to study at school in his hometown of Songkhla, Thailand, because he didn’t want to be seen as a failure.

“You study and study and study all day long,” he said. “If you don’t go to college, it’s like you have failed in your life.”

Nitiparksagul is one of five international students attending Ridgefield and living with host families this academic year. Nitiparksagul and Tanja Voehringer of Stuttgart, Germany, are seniors; Nerea Remirez of Vitoria, Spain, and Niklas Seib of Hamburg, Germany, are juniors; and Sebastian Nikol of Neuenburg, Germany, is a sophomore.

Ridgefield academic adviser and curriculum coordinator Wendy Stotts said the private school works with an agency, and the students work with an agency in their home country. The agencies get together and match students with schools, she said.

“All of them are housed by Ridgefield Christian School families or host homes,” Stotts said. “They are here August through May.”

Nitiparksagul and Voehringer take concurrent courses in freshman English and freshman U.S. history through Williams Baptist College near Walnut Ridge, she said.

“Ming plans to take the ACT in February,” Stotts said. “He wants to go to Arkansas State University.”

Until then, they are living the life as American students in Jonesboro. Both Voehringer and Remirez are on the girls basketball team and the cheerleading squad at Ridgefield. Nitiparksagul and Nikol play boys’ basketball.

The students seem comfortable with the American way of life, make jokes and get along with their classmates. And they take their education seriously.

“It’s a different culture,” Remirez said. “But we’re all like in first-world countries.”

Both Remirez and Seib have siblings who were exchange students like them, so they knew what to expect in Jonesboro. They said student exchanges are common in their country, and they can choose to study in the United States, England, Ireland or other countries.

Yet, the education systems are different between Germany and the United States.

Seib and Voehringer described a three-level education system in Germany. One is for unmotivated students, one for average students and another for students who excel. At about fourth grade, teachers recommend an educational path, and parents choose one of three schools, based on each level, where they will send their children, Seib said. If parents choose a level their child cannot attain, the student is dropped back to a lower level, he said. Students at the lower levels can graduate after ninth grade.

“Fifty percent do not go to college,” he added.

When Voehringer attended elementary school in Germany, English instruction began in third grade. Now, teachers there begin teaching English to first-graders, she said.

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