MERCED — Thirty students from Dordrecht in the Netherlands visited Merced's Golden Valley High School last week and formed bonds that could last a lifetime.
It's the fourth time the cultural exchange has taken place between the two countries, and several Merced students will visit their Dutch friends in June.
The students are from Stedelyk Dalton Lyceum, a pre-university school with nearly 1,000 students. Accompanying the students was Vice Principal Rien Mulder, who has been in Merced five times.
Mulder said family life here is completely different from Holland. His group arrived Feb. 23 and left Friday to spend the weekend in San Francisco before heading home.
"Our kids are having the time of their lives," Mulder said. "It's quite remarkable."
Campus diversity shown
To illustrate the diversity of the Golden Valley campus to the Dutch visitors, instructor Tina Spurlock had her ninth-grade pre-advanced placement English students hear Merced College professor-counselor Jonas Vanguy speak about the struggles of the Hmong people and his life here.
Vanguy said he was lucky he got to attend French schools in Laos and then get a scholarship for a university in Paris, where he earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science, and a master's degree later in computer science.
He said he didn't have to personally go through the miseries of other members of his family in war-torn Southeast Asia. He told Golden Valley students not to prejudge other people and strive to be the best they can in all they do.
Emma Thies, 16, is a junior at the Dordrecht school and was making her first visit to the United States. She said it has been a very nice experience.
"Our teachers are less strict but there are lots of similar things," Emma said. "I like America. There is a difference in culture; people here are more polite. People in Holland are pretty rude, but I'm used to it."
Spurlock said Dutch students are allowed to talk during class, something not generally permitted in American classrooms. She said four juniors from Golden Valley will spend 10 days in the Netherlands, with a side trip to Brussels in June.
Golden Valley social studies teacher Rita Murphy said the Dutch students were learning about school in the United States and said the surroundings here are very different from home, and the diversity of cultures in America becomes evident to the Dutch students.
Another Dutch chaperone, Elma De Hoon, organized the original cultural exchange. This is her fifth visit and she said she notices Merced is a close-knit community, calling its residents very helpful.
Many are multilingual
De Hoon teaches classical languages, namely Latin and Greek, in Dordrecht. She said many of her students speak Dutch, English, French and German.
Jan Willem Kok, a geography teacher in Dordrecht, was visiting Merced for the first time. He said math instruction is quite different back home but drama, physics and chemistry classes are about the same.
U.S. and Dutch students all have the same questions about guns and drugs, Kok said. He said Dutch students are quite familiar with American life and the exchange program is all about developing more understanding.
"A lot of parents put in the effort to work together, opening their homes and hearts. Our kids feel very welcome," De Hoon said of their Merced hosts.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.