By Adam Armour/Itawamba County Times
At some point during her year-long stay in Mantachie, Taiwanese exchange student Sophia Hsu became a little confused over the exact meaning of the expression, “I’m pooped.”
She said her understanding of the word “poop” didn’t quite mesh with the way it was being used in the expression. Her befuddlement was both understandable and a bit hilarious.
“We were laughing so hard we had trouble trying to explain what it meant,” said Mantachie resident Jane Brown, whose daughter and son-in-law are hosting Sophia.
Sophia smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
“Some of the slang was hard to understand at first,” she said.
From around the dining room table at Brown’s home, her fellow exchange students Marie Strobl — a tall, somewhat shy German girl — and Brazilian Juliana Fonseca —who bubbled like soda — nodded vehemently in agreement.
“And the accent was kind of hard to understand,” Fonseca said, her Brazilian accent now mingling with just a hint of southern drawl.
It’s probably not the kind of cultural trafficking that most people would expect from the exchange program, but it was also bound to happen. Sometimes, there are customs and expressions that seem so natural to a given place that those living there forget they may seem strange to outsiders.
But they certainly do.
“We understand each other,” Fonseca said of the three of them, who have become close friends since arriving in Mantachie a year ago. “Sometimes, we’ll see something, and we can just look at each other and know what each other is thinking because it’s something we don’t have or do in our country.”
The three eleventh grade students said that living here has been an experience. When they first arrived, not only did they have to contend with the obvious cultural differences among the respective countries, but they also had to adapt to the slower pace of life in the rural American South.
It was kind of shocking at first.
“I cried all day my first day,” Fonseca admitted, laughing at the memory.
Strobl said she suffered a similar feeling of apprehension. While she didn’t cry, coming to the states — especially a place as small and rural as Mantachie, Mississippi — was a shock.
“It was scary,” she said.
But things settled down quickly, and Strobl said people were kind and respectful — exemplifying the hospitality for which the area is famous.
“The people were all so open and nice,” Strobl said.
“It’s like a huge family,” Fonseca said. “Everybody cares about everybody else.”
Brown — whose daughter and son-in-law are hosting Sophia — said the three girls were like family, now … as if they had been born and raised within the small borders of Mantachie.
“They’re all sweet girls,” Brown said. “They’re very outgoing, very respectful. It’s like having three more grandchildren.”
Now, just a week before they are to return to their respective homes, the three friends admit to being anxious about leaving. What at first was alien to them has become as comfortable as a familiar chair.
“I’ve been crying,” Strobl said, offering a kind of sad smile.
They miss their real homes, of course; but they also realize that there’s a little part of them tucked away in wild honeysuckles and wide-armed magnolia trees of Mississippi.
“And think, if we hadn’t done this, we wouldn’t have even known that Mantachie existed,” Strobl said.
“And now you have family here,” Brown said with a smile.
“Yes,” Fonseca answered, suddenly a touch more somber. “We do.”
Read more: itawamba360.com – Mantachie exchange students leave with memories new experiences