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Coming to America

Family hosts exchange student from Slovakia

Posted: December 26, 2008 9:12 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2008 4:55 a.m.
Foreign exchange student Kristina Micunekova points out her home country of Slovakia at her host home in Valencia. Foreign exchange student Kristina Micunekova points out her home country of Slovakia at her host home in Valencia.
Foreign exchange student Kristina Micunekova points out her home country of Slovakia at her host home in Valencia.

Kristina Micunekova figured a student exchange program would improve her English. But the 16-year-old Slovakian didn't choose England as her exchange country. She came to California.

"America is cooler," said Micunekova, but she wasn't talking about the weather.

She watches American movies, listens to American music and wanted to spend a year here to soak up the culture.

"I love American accents. They speak English so loosely," she said.

Micunekova turned to Cultural Homestay International. The company places foreign exchange students with host families. Micunekova is spending a year in Santa Clarita, where she will attend William S. Hart High School for the entire school year.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Deputy Brenda Cambra picked Micunekova from a handbook and opened her home to the student. This is Cambra's fifth exchange student. Her previous exchange students hailed from Slovakia, Germany and Brazil.

"My husband and I like having teenage children in the house," Cambra said.

The couple's daughter Kathryn is 13, but having another teenage girl in the house injects more life into the home, she said.

"We both love music, singing and dancing. We have so much in common," Kathryn said.

The Cambra family takes Micunekova to all things classically American. They've been to Disneyland, Hearst Castle and high school football games.

"When you look at a place through someone else's eyes, it gives you a fresh perspective," Brenda said.
Micunekova wasn't impressed with Hearst Castle.

"It has no history," she said.

But that's relative considering castles in her country can date back more than 1,000 years, Micunekova said.

The sightseeing is exciting, but it is the little things that make the U.S. special.

"The food in America is better than Slovakia," Micunekova said. "We don't have any Mexican food or peanut butter in Slovakia. I am going to bring some back."

Slovakia is in eastern Europe and was part of Czechoslovakia before the countries split in 1993.

Micunekova points out Slovakia's most famous almost-native son Andy Warhol, whose family hailed from the country.

"He painted the portrait of Marilyn Monroe," Micunekova said.

"We don't have American football. And people in America don't play pingpong as a sport like they do in Slovakia," Micunekova said.

She played competitive pingpong until piano lessons derailed her.

She mastered the pen-hold and handshake grips, but both put too much stress on her wrists and made playing the piano almost impossible, Micunekova said.

"There are no school sports in Slovakia, only club sports," Micunekova said.

She likes that American high schools offer sports in school because sports build school spirit.

"You know the people you play with when it's a school sport," she said.

Besides Americans' fixation with a different kind of football, Micunekova also notices how diverse the United States is.

"In my country, there are no Hispanic people and no black people. People are pretty much the same. It doesn't matter what race they are," she said.

Micunekova's trip to the U.S. ends in July, but she might be back.

She's torn between attending college in Slovakia, where her family lives, and going to college in the U.S., a country she is growing to love.


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