ORR, Minn. (AP) — When Rafael Picasso Amarante searched on a map for the place he would spend his senior year of high school, he couldn’t find it.
“I called my host mother and asked how big Orr was,” the Brazilian exchange student said.
She told him the population was about 300.
“Only 300,000?” Amarante asked her.
No, only 300.
This small town in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range at first seems an unlikely place for an exchange student, but apparently it’s not.
One-third of this year’s 25-student senior class is foreign exchange students — two from Brazil, two from Italy, one from Colombia and three from Germany.
Those who work with the kids say community interest is the reason for so many exchange students in Orr.
“I’m thankful to the Orr school and the community at large for opening their hearts and homes to these kids,” said Donna Hoffer, a local coordinator for the Boston-based organization that brings exchange students to Orr.
Hoffer has hosted foreign exchange students for the past few years and is Amarante’s host mother this year.
“They’ve taught me a lot,” she said.
In addition to going to school and spending time with their host families, the exchange students speak to community groups about themselves and their countries.
It is about this time of year that “they are starting to find out what cold is,” said school counselor, Michelle Maki.
“In Brazil, 60 is cold,” Amarante said on a recent day, gathered around a table at the school with the other foreign exchange students. But he is looking forward to trying snowboarding this winter.
Most of the students said they came to America to improve their English.
And “one year without parents is perfect,” Amarante joked.
The students are already becoming accustomed to life in Orr and enjoying some of the things the town has to offer.
“It is beautiful — all the lakes,” said Daniele Ferrini of Rome. “I’ve never seen so many animals in all my life.”