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For the first time in several years, Iowa Valley High School has three foreign exchange students spending the year studying here in Marengo.

Hakan Durdu, 17, is from Gelsenkirchen, Germany. He is staying with the Eddie Thomas family in Marengo. Jeffrey Chik, 16, Hong Kong, is also staying with the Eddie Thomas family.

Phuong Hoang, 17, is from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She is staying with the Jerry Messamer family in Marengo.

The trio have spent the last couple of months assimilating to life in Iowa and have plenty of information to share about their home country.

Hakan Durdu is from Gelsenkirchen, Germany, a town of about 200,000 near Dusseldorf. Hakan enjoys playing soccer at home, and is now a punter on the Iowa Valley football team. He said his hometown has a very famous soccer team, and many people work for the team. Most of the other residents, including his father, drive to the nearby cities to work.

Hakan has three brothers and two sisters and he is in the middle. They live in a large apartment in the middle of his hometown.

His school has 1,600 students, and he said students must pass a test that determines what school they will attend.

One unique aspect of his school is that soccer practice and games are held in the morning before class starts. Private soccer or basketball teams then hold practice after school, he said.

Also, Hakan’s school starts class at 7:50 a.m. and ends at 3:50 p.m. The students have three 20-minute breaks during the day and a one hour lunch period.

He said he wanted to be a part of the foreign exchange program in America to improve his English. Hakan said he wants to be a pilot, and he must be able to speak English for a career in aviation. In Germany, Hakan began studying English in school in the fifth grade.

He said he also wants to learn more about American culture and the life of the American teenager.

Hakan said he finds school to be easier in America than at home. His school has six difficult tests in multiple subjects.

It took some time for Hakan to adjust to the way of life in Marengo. European countries are very close together, and he said it is nothing to drive two hours to Amsterdam, Netherlands, or go to a disco in Dusseldorf. He did note that he cannot drive himself, since the legal age to obtain a driver’s license in Germany is 18.

He said he and his friends play soccer or basketball or go to the Internet café.

In Marengo, the mall is over 30 minutes away. In Germany, Hakan said the mall is five minutes from his house.

One thing Hakan noted is that most of the teenagers in Marengo have a part-time after school or weekend job. He said teenagers in his hometown do not work.

While Hakan said he found Marengo boring at first, as he began to make friends and participate in school activities, he said he now finds Marengo “fun.”

“I like the teenagers in Marengo. Sometimes they want to have a lot of fun, and in my country it is the same,” Hakan said.

Jeffrey Chik actually has two names. He goes by Jeffrey, even at home in Hong Kong, but his given name is Chik Yiu Nam.

He lives with his parents and little sister in an apartment in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has about seven million people and is an autonomous territory of the People’s Republic of China.

Jeffrey said Hong Kong is much like New York City, only smaller in size and with more people. He said there are people on the streets of Hong Kong morning and night.

He began learning English in kindergarten, as do all students in Hong Kong, and is fairly fluent. He said he enjoys different cultures and his dream job is to be a hotel manager, possibly in a different country. He said he wanted to be in the foreign exchange program to learn about American culture, which will be useful for his future.

Jeffrey has already visited New Jersey, where his uncle lives, and he has also been to South Africa and Canada.

He said he may join the foreign exchange program again next year to study in a different country.

Jeffrey said his school back home is seven stories and has 1,500 students. He said each floor of his school is larger than Iowa Valley.

Most boys in Hong Kong play soccer or basketball. Jeffrey said there is not enough land in Hong Kong to build a football field. He is currently playing on the IV football team.

At his school, Jeffrey said he and his 40 classmates stay in one class all day and the teachers move from classroom to classroom to teach different subjects.

This caused some confusion for Jeffrey on his first day at Iowa Valley. He was not used to changing classrooms and had trouble finding his class.

Also, Jeffrey said students in Hong Kong cannot choose their classes. Everyone studies the same subjects.

Lunch time is quite different in Hong Kong. Jeffrey said they get a one hour break for lunch. Students can eat in a restaurant in school or go to any of the 12 restaurants outside the school, such as McDonalds, KFC, sushi, etc.

He said this can sometimes cause a problem because during the class before lunch, Jeffrey said he will wonder where he will eat lunch instead of pay attention to the teacher.

In Hong Kong, everything is conveniently located, Jeffrey said. If he wakes up hungry at 3 a.m., he said he can just go downstairs to a 24-hour restaurant and buy some food. There is also a 24-hour supermarket on his block.

He said teenagers also have the opportunity to do all sorts of things in their free time. Jeffrey said malls are everywhere and Hong Kong teenagers love to go the mall. They can also go ice skating, or go to a swimming pool or even rent a boat at the beach.

There are two amusement parks in Hong Kong, including a Disneyland. Jeffrey said it is the world’s smallest Disneyland because Hong Kong “is a small place and the people are also small.”

He also noted the legal driving age in Hong Kong is 18, so they must take a taxi or subway wherever they are going. He said most people don’t own a car in Hong Kong because they are very expensive, as well as the cost of gas and parking.

Jeffrey said he likes away because of the amount of free time and relaxation. In Hong Kong, he said a teenager’s daily schedule is full and there is not time to relax. He said he needs to schedule his day every night, which he said causes stress and pressure to many Hong Kong teenagers. He said he is lucky if he has five minutes of free time in a day.

Teenagers in Hong Kong must also have a plan for the future careers, Jeffrey said. He said he appreciates that American teenagers have time to study different careers and have several options.

Jeffrey said he also likes the friendliness of Iowans. In Hong Kong, he said nobody says “hi” to people on the street. Even if they know each other, people will walk by without saying anything.

In Marengo, he said people say “hi” to him even when they don’t know his name. Jeffrey noted that if he lived here for 16 years, then he might know everybody’s name, but for now he just replies with a “hi.”

Also, Jeffrey said when he is walking in Marengo, friends will drive up and offer him a ride. He said that would never happen in Hong Kong.

One thing Jeffrey said he is looking forward to is having a white Christmas.

“I have seen snow before, but in Hong Kong we have no white Christmas,” he said.

Phuong Hoang is from Ho Chi Minh City, a town of about seven million people and the capital of Vietnam. Phuong lives in a house with her parents and her younger sister.

She said she enrolled in the foreign exchange student program to learn more about American culture and to improve her English. She said English is a very popular language in Vietnam and being skilled will help her obtain a good job.

Phuong said she plans to study abroad in the future, and may possibly attend college in America. She said it is her goal to be a real estate agent like her mother.

Vietnam is a small country and has lots of people, Phuong said. She said it is the opposite of Iowa, which is very big with few people.

People don’t drive cars in Ho Chi Minh, but there are motorbikes everywhere, she said, which causes many traffic jams.

She said she appreciates the safety of Iowa. In Ho Chi Minh City, if somebody parks their motorbike in public, it will be stolen, Phuong said.

Her neighborhood can become noisy at times, especially if the soccer team wins, she said. People will party in the streets and shout and make all sorts of noise if the team wins.

One thing that is similar is that Vietnamese teenagers and American teenagers are very friendly, Phuong said.

However, they are different in that American teenagers have much more freedom with their lives. Phuong said Vietnamese parents raise their children close to home and the teenagers do not have a lot of freedom.

She said she attends a private school that puts the emphasis on studying. Vietnamese teachers are very strict, she said, and put a lot of pressure on students.

Phuong said they do not have extracurricular activities. She goes to school at 6:30 a.m. and leaves at 8:30 p.m. She said they have an hour break in the morning and an hour break for lunch.

In Vietnam, Phuong said she is able to walk to the mall or supermarket and hang out with her friends on the weekend. She said she is usually very busy, and the weekend is the only time she has free time.

In Marengo, she said she likes to go to the mall and go to movies.

Vietnam teenagers are not allowed by their parents to have jobs, Phuong said. She said she would like to get a job here in Iowa except the foreign exchange student program does not allow it.

Phuong said she loves Marengo because of the peace and quiet, as well as the nature. She said she especially enjoys seeing the trees.

Phuong said she appreciates the amount of freedom Iowa Valley teachers give to students, and the amount of activities and sports that are available.

She said she also appreciates the amount of time she has to spend on her homework.

When she first arrived in Marengo, Phuong said she was homesick and missed her family and friends. However, as she met more of her classmates, she has begun to feel more at ease.

“I like the friends in Marengo because they are very funny and have lots of free time,” Phuong said.

UPDATED October 21, 2009 11:51 AM

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