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Alba students get a taste of Medford

Marijana Velkora, 17, said she likes Medford better than New York City.

A native of Alba, Italy, Velkora said her first — and much anticipated — trip to the United States has been eye-opening and rewarding. Her goal is to make as many friends as possible.

“That’s my favorite thing about this trip — the chance to bond with people here. I have made many friends that I plan to keep in touch with,” Velkora said before she stopped to greet a South Medford High School student in the hallway.

Medford and Alba have been sister cities since 1961 and started a formal student exchange program in 1985. Every other year, a group of juniors and seniors from Medford stays in Alba and a group of high school students from Alba comes to Medford in the fall.

The exchange program allows students of both countries to see and experience a different culture, organizer and South Medford teacher Stacy Stover said.

The group of 25 students and two chaperones from Alba arrived in Medford Oct. 12. Each student has been staying with a host family of a high school student in Medford.

Prior to their 12-day stay in the Rogue Valley, the Alba students went to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Medford, the exchange students are scheduled to visit some regional sightseeing spots, such as the Oregon Caves, Crater Lake and the Table Rocks. They'll also visit local schools, watch American high school football games, attend assembly, meet the Medford City Council and go to “prom.”

A fourth-year student in a high school for foreign languages, Velkora speaks four languages fluently — Italian, German, French and English. She said this trip gave her the opportunity to practice her English.

“I have been to France and Germany, but never an English-speaking country,” she said. “We have been always learning but never practicing, you know.”

During the Thursday morning tour of South Medford, the five exchange students and two student leaders went from building to building; the student leaders occasionally added their insight about a class or teacher.

“That’s detention … that’s where you go if you get into trouble,” one of the student leaders joked as they exited Building A. “So I’d try to away from there.”

The students started veering the conversation toward their hobbies as the tour came to an end.

“Sports are very serious here,” said Terrence Butler, a South Medford junior. “Sometimes that’s the only way for some of the kids here to go to college.”

The exchange students said their school has physical education classes, but there’s little interest in playing sports.

“We go to bars a lot,” Velkora said, adding that the legal drinking age in Italy is 16. “I also like drawing and I play the mandolin.”

“What’s here that you don’t have over there?” a student leader asked.

“Definitely more freedom here,” Velkora said.

The student leaders explained some of the differences between public and private schools in the Rogue Valley. The group also talked about religion, art, college plans and a teacher strike in Medford where “the whole school was a mess.”

By the end of it, everyone in the group was connected to each other through Instagram, a social network for sharing photos and videos.

“I was excited to go because I knew it would be a good opportunity,” Velkora said. “But the friends I have made here are what's most important.”

The Alba students will visit North Medford High School and Jacksonville Friday. The students depart for home Sunday.

— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-448 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com. Follow her on twitter at @nguyenntrann.

South Medford junior Terrance Butler guides a tour of South Medford High School for Alba exchange students Thursday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]