This year, Trinity High School welcomed international exchange student Manshi Gala, and the 17-year-old from Mumbai has jumped right into her new role as American teenager.
“Coming to America has always been my dream,” Gala said. “A friend told me about a scholarship, and I thought I could at least apply.”
When she learned that she was the student picked to receive a scholarship out of all the other eligible students throughout India, she was ecstatic.
“Nobody in my family has ever been overseas,” Gala said. “I created history. That is awesome.”
So far, Gala has loved her time in Washington. Her host family has exposed her to area staples like visiting the county fair, spelunking in the Laurel Caverns, picking pumpkins at a nearby farm and riding a spooky hayride for Halloween. In the spring, she looks forward to traveling to New York City and visiting Niagara Falls.
Gala is a recipient of a Youth Exchange and study scholarship through the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Council on International Educational Exchange is the support agency that oversees her stay. When officials were looking for a family to accommodate her, they knew just where to turn.
Gala’s host family has been a perfect fit. Gala’s host sister, Jacie Goudy, spent seven months in India in a cultural exchange program last year. The fact that Jacie speaks Hindi has helped in Gala’s transition.
Jacie Goudy was just returning from her trip when she persuaded her parents to host Gala. The two girls hit it off immediately.
For April Goudy, taking in an exchange student wasn’t a tough sell.
“My husband and I have been fostering and adopting kids for years,” said April Goudy, Gala’s host mother. “We were never worried about anybody else coming into the house.”
Goudy said Gala fit right into the household.
The Goudy family was already large, so adding another member to the family was no big deal.
“Manshi fits in,” April Goudy said. “She’s a good fit for the family. She helps out with the younger kids, and she’s polite. Her and Jacie have a really good friendship.”
“We always say, ‘hambehene hein,’” said Jacie Goudy. “That means ‘we are sisters.’ It’s cool that I lived there and I understand the culture. I think that helps with the homesickness.”
Her exposure to American life has given Gala a new perspective. She said she enjoys some freedoms here that she didn’t in Mumbai, where, to a certain extent, her religion dictated with whom she could associate.
“In India, my family doesn’t want me to date guys from other castes,” Gala said. “But I don’t have to worry about that here.”
While Gala has integrated rather seamlessly into high school life at Trinity, there have been some interesting moments.
“The worst culture shock for me was the homecoming dance,” Gala said. “I never thought about it. I went on YouTube and searched for ‘grinding’ because I had never heard of it before.”
A similar learning moment revolved around the way Americans greet each other.
“A lot of things are different,” Gala said. “In India, giving a hug is a big deal. Here it’s a normal thing. The main greeting is hugging. Now I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s hug.’”
Gala said she felt incredibly blessed to be able to take part in the American education system.
“I never dreamed of so many electives,” Gala said. “In India, you have no options.”
At Trinity, Gala has enrolled in courses such as guitar, advanced placement psychology, astronomy, forensics and photography that she never would have dreamed of taking back home. But by far, her greatest passion has been her ceramics class, something she never had the opportunity to try in India. She said she hopes the pottery she brings home will be a constant reminder of her friends and family back in the United States.
“Pottery is so cool,” Gala said. “You can create anything you want to. It’s fun to make something out of an idea.”