Hayfield foreign exchange student Aida Oktombekova and her host sister Rachel Moe treasure the time they have had together.
Photo by Ruth Hanson
By Ruth Hanson
Aida Oktombekova and Rachel Moe, seniors at Hayfield High School, are the best of friends, very much like sisters.
Rachel's mother, Colleen Moe, tells the amazing story of how their relationship came about.
Tracy Smith of Adams, representing Program of Academic Exchange (PAX), called the Moe house on Labor Day last fall, asking if their family might be interested in hosting an exchange student.
"I had thought about it, but this came out of the blue," Colleen said. "I told Tracy I would have to talk to my family. She came to our house that evening and spent two hours with us. We filled out the paper work online on the Tuesday after Labor Day and Aida was sleeping in our home that Thursday evening." "It's been fun," Rachel said, smiling. "When we learned that Aida was coming for sure, we wanted her to come as soon as possible, she has a great sense of humor and fits into our family very well."
The Moes live on a farm in a rambler with a finished basement. There are twin beds downstairs with a bathroom and TV. They planned to have Aida sleep down there, but Rachel suggested that she share the room with Aida the first night. The arrangement stuck.
Colleen works full-time as a research lab technician at the Mayo Clinic. They live on an 800 acre farm and raise corn. Her husband, Rodney, works full-time for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Aida explained that she is here with the FLEX program (Future Leaders Exchange). She said that her country, Kyrgyzstan, used to be part of the Soviet Union and is in central Asia between China and Mongolia.
"Somebody I knew told me that the experience would improve my English, that I would meet wonderful people and have wonderful experiences," she said. "That has all come true. I've learned a lot of new things and my English has improved. I think I said, 'Can you repeat that one more time?' many times, but the girls were patient."
Rodney said it has been fun to learn about a different country, with lots of little details, like that they wear a uniform to school.
"It's been fun to watch the girls get along so well," he said. "There is seldom a time that Aida isn't happy. She is so good natured."
"They've become like two peas in a pod," Colleen said. "They really hit it off and got along very, very well. I asked Rachel, an only child, if she kind of wished we hadn't done this during her senior year, but she said, 'No, it has been fun'"
"I lived on chicken strips the first three weeks I was in Hayfield," Aida said. "I like the Pizza Ranch in Austin and I especially like Chinese food and the tator tot hot dish that Colleen and Rachel both make."
Colleen described Aida as "a good kid -polite and helpful. She has a brother in college, a younger sister 12 or 13 and a brother who is five. We have met her mother and her grandmother through Skype. Nobody speaks English except her older brother." Aida speaks four languages - English, Russian, Turkish and Kyrgyz (her native language).
She loves shopping and loved her visit to the Mall of America. Her program gave her some money to pay for an extra bag to take her extra purchases home.
Aida enjoyed a trip to Eyota for canoeing on the river last fall, and recently, a trip to the high ropes course near Lanesboro.
Aida also volunteers at the Hayfield library and tags along when Rachel goes to early morning meetings of FFA, where Rachel is the president. Rachel is in 4-H, and Aida also goes along sometimes.
"I show our basset hound, Lola, in 4-H," Rachel said. "Both of us like Lola and our cat, Michelin (wink, wink). They are outside/inside animals." "Dogs in my country are mostly outside dogs," Aida said.
"She's smart," Rachel said. "We've had some stressful times and some late nights studying."
Aida was in the school play, "Donovan's Daughters" and played a lumberjack.
Both Rachel and Aida are in the band. Aida plays the tuba in the concert band and cymbals in the pep band. "I have had a wonderful time playing the cymbals in pep band," she said. "The director, Dennis Conroy, is wonderful! It's my first year on the tuba," she said. Rachel plays the clarinet and played in a clarinet duet at contest.
Aida sings in the high school choir. "And I got a superior for my solo at contest," she said. "I sang in my native language. I'll miss choir and band."
She said she learned to like watching both girls and boys basketball, especially since the Vikings went to State.
"Aida opened up another culture for our students," John Howe, the high school principal, commented. "Aida did a video for our entire student body. The students asked her questions later. Her host family has done an excellent job. We are thinking about having another student next year."
Both girls attended the prom, Aida with a Hayfield junior named Jon, and Rachel with a Southland senior named Ethan.
"I will miss Aida terribly," Rachel said. "I don't look forward to taking her to the airport in Rochester. She will go to Chicago, then Washington, D.C. and stay in a hotel for a break, then to Frankfurt, then Kazakhstan, a stop in the capital city of Bishkek and finally Jalal-Abad. It's a two-day process. I hope to be able to go visit her. It would be great if I could go to her wedding someday."
"Rachel and Colleen have become my best friends," Aida said. "I tell them everything."
"I will be leaving on May 21," Aida explained. "I want to stay and I want to go. It will be five days before graduation, so I will miss graduation, but I will get a diploma."
"I dread Aida's leaving," Rachel said. "I drag her everywhere I go."
"I will miss Rachel and Colleen and Rodney," Aida said. "And the Hayfield High School kids. I will miss choir and band and speech class and speech team and dance team. It's the first time I've done that kind of dance."
Aida said she will be applying for college in Turkey and hopes to major in international trade.
Rachel plans to attend South Dakota State and to major in agricultural education or another field of agriculture.
"It's been nice to have someone there all the time to vent to and to laugh with - and to share our 'blond' moments," Rachel said. "We both tend to have a lot of them."
"Yes!" Aida agreed. "No discussion."
" I feel that both of us have grown a lot from the experience," Rachel said.
"Me, too," Aida said. "The first week I was here people said to me, 'Oh, my gosh, you are so lucky to be staying with the Moes. And I feel the same way!"
If anyone has an interest in hosting a foreign exchange student or would like more information please contact Tracy Smith at 507-438-0605.