A group of 35 students and six adults are visiting Murrieta from Hainan Island, China, through the nonprofit organization EF Foundation for Foreign Study. The organization connects students from around the world with host families.

For 20 days, the exchange students, all between the ages of 12 and 16, are staying with host families from the surrounding areas. During their stay, the students are attending classes held at Shivela Middle School to improve their English and learn about the different cultures of America.

"The students are immersed in the language; it’s all around them and they are forced to learn it,” said English teacher Sergio Rios.

While translators and instructors from the students' school in China have accompanied them, they are only utilized in an emergency or if a student has a hard time grasping a concept.

The students, who arrived Tuesday, got their first lessons in the melting pot that makes up America with a cultural assembly held Wednesday. Performers included Ballet Folklorico dancers from Murrieta high schools, square dancers from Avaxat Elementary, line dancers from the Canyon Lake Twirlers and Hawaiian dancers from University of California, Riverside.

Along with the performances, the students learned about the different cultures and what makes them unique to America.

"What’s so great for the students is that they are able to learn about other cultures, which helps them with the language,” said Kristina Rigden, program coordinator. “They also learn the little things like doing laundry, the dishes and how to govern their time.”

Rigden insisted it is not just the students who benefit, but the host families as well.

"They learn about the cultures they are hosting, along with the students and their habits,” said Rigden.

Claudia Bellante, square dance instructor for the Avaxat Elementary team, sees the benefits that learning about other cultures can provide.

"The more we know and learn about each other and different cultures, the more we will see how alike we are and it might help people get along.”

Rios agreed.

"Knowledge is power and being exposed to as much as possible helps people learn about each other and become more tolerant,” Rios said. He said he has learned a lot from his work with the organization.

"I get to learn about different cultures as well, which makes it all worth it.”

Students come with their own spending money and insurance. Throughout their stay will engage in activities that nurture the English language and American culture. Along with the cultural assembly, they will take a Los Angeles city tour and visit Universal Studios.

Host families provide room, board and a caring environment. Families work with a local coordinator to select a student whose interests match their own.

To learn more about hosting an exchange student next summer, contact Kristina Rigden via email at kristinarigden@gmail.com or by visiting Effoundation.org.

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