It could be said that Tales Mendes is willing to go the extra mile to get a well-rounded education - 4,811 miles, to be exact.
The 16-year-old from Sao Jose Rio Preto, Brazil, is attending Evans High School this year through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, which allows students ages 15-18 to study in high school in another country for one year.
Tales' visit is being sponsored by the Martinez-Evans Rotary Club and the Columbia County Rotary Club.
There are about 8,000 Rotary youth exchanges nationwide every year to about 80 countries, said Lee Wheatley, chairman of Columbia County Rotary's youth exchange program and Tales' temporary host. Tales will spend the rest of his time here with the Rafael Rivera family.
Tales began his stay on Labor Day weekend and already has learned to water-ski.
"He's being Americanized to some degree," Wheatley said. "He's a real popular student, the nicest person you would ever want to meet and a fun guy to be with."
Tales Mendes (right), 16, from Brazil, plays soccer in the street with Cameron Jordon after school. The boys became friends when Cameron was an exchange student in Brazil.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Tales is one of nine foreign-exchange students in the Columbia County school system this year, according to school officials.
"Everything's different," Tales said. "The school is very different, the lifestyle is very different, houses, cars, everything. We have pizza in Brazil, but it's nothing like the kind you have here."
In Brazil, Tales attends a private school. At 12:40 p.m., he goes home to eat lunch, then returns to the school for afternoon classes. He is on his neighborhood's soccer team, which is the one thing he has in common with his new friends here.
After he gets home from Evans High, Tales enjoys playing soccer with the neighborhood boys before he buckles down to do his homework in the evenings. He speaks Portuguese, so subjects that require a lot of reading have been challenging.
"The most difficult is literature and American history," said Tales, who is classified as a junior.
Tales said the hardest part is being away from his parents, Jose and Elma Mendes, his 13-year-old brother Tassio, his pet parrot and his girlfriend, Mariana.
He wants to be a doctor when he graduates, or an engineer and a farmer like his father. Though he lives in the city during the week in Brazil, on the weekends, he and his family and friends go to their farm, where they grow mangos and sugar cane and raise cattle.
"It's fun, different, a new experience," Tales said of his time as an exchange student. "I get more experience and get to know different peoples."
Besides the high-school program, Rotary has another Student Exchange Program that serves college-level students. In the true exchange program, a girl from the Athens, Ga., area recently returned from her stay in Brazil, Wheatley said.
Cameron Jordon, a Greenbrier High School tenth-grader, met Tales this summer when he went to Brazil for a short-term summer exchange program.
It costs the civic clubs about $2,500 to sponsor a long-term exchange student for a year, since students are given a $75 per month allowance to pay for expenses, Wheatley said.
"Travel is so very important, the broadening aspect of it," said Jim Heaney, a Martinez-Evans Rotary member and Cameron's uncle. "You can tell the difference between kids who travel and kids who don't. There is a certain sophistication level."
Wheatley said the county's Rotary Clubs are looking for host families and exchange students. Long-term and short-term exchange students must apply by the end of the year. For more information on the Rotary's foreign-exchange programs, visit www.studentexchanges.org.
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