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Slovakian exchange student experiences life in Auburn

Host family gets taste of parenthood for the first time
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Romi Behunova’s parents couldn’t leave Slovakia when it was under communist rule 30 years ago, but today their daughter is getting the opportunity to study abroad in Auburn. The 18-year-old student from Zilina, Slovakia is in her seventh month in the Rotary Youth Exchange. Currently, she is staying with Dennis and Betty Bennett and attending Placer High School. “If I expected that I will live by the beach and go surfing everyday, I would be disappointed. Getting California, I was one of the luckiest,” Behunova said. “It’s just opening my eyes more.” She has used her time in the U.S. to explore classes that aren’t offered at Slovakian schools, including drama and ceramics, and play on the tennis and golf teams. Discovering what Auburn and the rest of California has to offer has also been an adventure, she said. “I got to see all the different things that are in the movies, like the Golden Gate Bridge,” Behunova said. “I really like the farmer’s market and how you try to be local.” Some aspects of American cuisine, like eating bread and pasta together and eating lunch at school, were surprising to Behunova. This was also the first time she has celebrated Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day. After phoning a friend from home, who is studying abroad in Ireland, she realized wearing green on the holiday is only critical in the U.S. “I told her wear some green, or I can pinch you,” Behunova said with a laugh. One challenge for her has been making friends in a new way. “I miss my friends, my family of course,” Behunova said. “It’s not so natural how you make them.” She has divided her time among three local families. Her first host parents were Jeff and Brandee Ambrosia. For the Bennetts, being a host family to Romi has given them the opportunity to experience being parents for three months. “We didn’t have kids and we thought this would be fun to have a daughter for three months,” Betty Bennett said. “I keep telling everyone if I were to have a daughter, I would want her to be just like Romi.” Realizing how much the political climate of Eastern Europe has changed in her lifetime has also been awe-inspiring, she said. “Her parents grew up under communism and couldn’t leave Czechoslovakia and now she is an exchange student in the U.S.” Betty Bennett said. “I think that is so fascinating. It gives me chills that the opportunity has come to them in 30 years.” So far, the trio has skied and visited San Francisco and Yosemite. A trip to the Grand Canyon, Mount Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon is next on the agenda. “We were really anxious to show her what California has to offer,” Dennis Bennett said. After she leaves Auburn in July, she will go on a whirlwind tour of the East Coast, including Washington D.C. and New York. The Bennetts have even decided to meet up with Behunova’s parents in Budapest, Hungary after an upcoming cycling trip to Spain. Behunova said she is enjoying small town life and the way she constantly runs into people she knows. “I was surprised it’s such a small town and you can find really good restaurants,” Behunova said. “I would not have expected that.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.