Rotary international exchange student in Black Mountain

Barbara Hootman

Anurita Agrawal is spending a year in Black Mountain as a Rotary international exchange student. The 16-year-old, a junior at Owen High School, is making her home with two local host families during the year. When she arrived in Black Mountain, she was already Rotary International Student of the Year in India.

Since it began in 1929, the Rotary Youth Exchange program has sent high school age students around the world to experience difference cultures. Currently, Rotary clubs sponsor some 9,000 exchange students.

Each student is sponsored by a Rotary club and a Rotary district in his or her home country, as well in the host country. Each Rotary club hosting a student provides a Rotarian counselor for the student who works as a contact person within the club and provides support to the student when needed.

Annie Hall and Susan Murty are Agrawal’s Rotary counselors.

“We help her with adjustment problems if there are any,” Hall said. “She is like one of my own children. I think the Rotary Exchange Student program is a great peace-making (program) in America and around the world. I’m really like a second mother to Anurita. It is amazing how well adjusted she is. She arrived in Black Mountain last August and was only 15 years old and didn’t turn 16 until November. It is a privilege for me to one of her counselors.”

Agrawal, the oldest child in her family, has two sisters and a brother.

“I traveled here with other exchange students, and it took about 40 hours,” Agrawal said. “I had never been on a plane before. I had plenty of people to talk to, and audio books to keep me company.”

Agrawal described herself as shy before she came to Black Mountain.

“I think living with my host family and being with other teens at school has helped me overcome being so shy,” she said. “I have just moved to my second American host family, but when I was living at Kathi Robertson’s home, she was my host mother and I could tell her anything.

Kendyl Robertson was Agrawal’s first host sister.

“At first I was so nervous about school, so Kendyl dropped by in each of my classes and helped me buy some stuff for school,” Agrawal said. “She also told me some of the rules for school, and in second semester we both are in theater class together. Since I am living with my second host family now, theater class is a good way to stay in contact with Kendyl.

“My second host sister is Alyssa Paraham, and I am living with her family now. She has always helped me with dance. I never had a big sister because I was the oldest daughter at home in India. I am having an amazing experience being a small sister.”

This is the second exchange student that Kathi Robertson has hosted in her home.

“I wish that I had been a host in the exchange program while my girls were younger,” Robertson said. “They have graduated from high school now and are ready for college. I treated Anurita like one of my own children. I’m not a rigid host mother. I am available if the student wants to talk. She was a member of our family. I have a daughter who is an exchange student in Slovakia now.

“Anurita seemed to fit in well at Owen High School. The Owen students have met and known so many exchange students that it is nothing new for them. She communicated well with my family. It has been a good experience for all of us.”

The Black Mountain Rotary Club paid Agrawal’s travel expenses, and she receives $125 a month allowance. She has her own bank account.

“Anurita handles her money very well,” Hall said. “She doesn’t need any supervision at all with money.”

Agrawal celebrated her first Christmas in Black Mountain with the Robertson family.

“I went to church with my host family and had a Christmas tree,” she said. “I had never had a Christmas tree before. In India we have some special holidays when we get gifts, but we don’t celebrate Christmas.”

Agrawal, who plans to return to India at the end of the year and become a company secretary, was well prepared academically to attend high school in America.

“I went to school morning and afternoon in India, took a break, and went back for advanced studies for four more hours from 4-8 p.m.,” she said. “When I returned home I had dinner and went to bed. I also have studied English since I first started to school.”

Agrawal wants to share her Indian culture with as many people as possible while she is in Black Mountain. Recently she gave a Power Point presentation to the Black Mountain Rotary Club. She included photos of her family, friends, her city (Navsari), national symbols of India, a variety of Indian foods and clothing styles, as well as sculpture, architecture and cultural events in her country.

Agrawal’s American adventure is half over, and she said she has enjoyed it tremendously. She said she hopes to come back again for more visits after her exchange student time is over.