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Kosovo exchange students like American diversity, choices

Kosovo exchange students Gent Thaci, (from left) Yllka Ibrahimi, Arvesa Studenica and Hava Jahaj have bonded with thir Madison County host families. (CONTRIBUTED)
Kosovo exchange students Gent Thaci, (from left) Yllka Ibrahimi, Arvesa Studenica and Hava Jahaj have bonded with thir Madison County host families. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON COUNTY – Choices in curriculum and careers are fascinating four exchange students from Kosovo.

International Services Council (ISC) of Alabama is host organization for the Kosovo Youth Exchange Program. “Youth leadership programs are designed to advance mutual understanding between … the United States and other countries,” ISC executive director Jacqui Shipe said.

Hava Jahaj, 16, is a junior at Columbia High School. “Students here can pick subjects they want to take,” Jahaj said. Kosovo has separate high schools for science, social studies and technical. Teachers earn 50 percent less than their American counterparts. Her hometown Suhareka has 87,564 residents.

The teenagers are “developing leadership skills, necessary for a young state like Kosovo to have mature leaders,” Jahaj said. “I love my country and my people. I want to go back and make positive changes.”

Gent Thaci, 18, enrolled at Huntsville High School. “Education in the U.S. is very different for the better,” Thaci said. Thaci lives in Kosovo’s capital, Prishtina (200,000). “Kosovo is very small, the size of Connecticut.”

Thaci learned to speak English by watching movies. “I always wanted to live in the U.S.,” Thaci said. “The biggest surprises are malls and choices of food/things,” like selections of toothpaste at Walmart.

The teens enjoyed the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, volunteering at Huntsville Botanical Garden and helping students with special needs.

Arvesa Studenica, 18 and a Sparkman High School junior, said Alabama differs “from school to logistics,” compared to Peja (114,000). Studenica has become more independent. She wants to show her people “how good America is — how diversity rules this country.”

Studenica’s host family “is amazing. I’m going to miss them so much.”

Yllka Ibrahimi, 17, said Columbia is “totally different” with class changes and grading. She also lives in Prishtina. In Tuscaloosa, she liked seeing University of Alabama students walking on campus.

“The United States (has) a bunch of cultures. Its variety is what makes me want to learn more,” Ibrahimi said. “I didn’t expect people to be so friendly.”

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