Clarke Diversity Flourishes

In case you haven’t noticed, Clarke County rainbows are appearing more often than in the past. But don’t look just in the sky for Clarke’s beauty; look to the faces of its people.

Last night’s Clarke County High School Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee (MAC) may sound like just another boring administrative meeting to most people (wrong!).   Although MAC’s official mission is to, “raise awareness of minority concerns by making diversity an integrated part of the Clarke Public Schools curriculum,” this regularly-held meeting provides Clarke County citizens and students from around the world with a opportunity to share their foods, cultures, and stories. Last night’s meeting was no exception.

Dorothy Davis, a Clarke native who recently returned to Clarke in retirement, may have expressed Clarke County’s willingness to embrace diversity best; “We haven’t always valued diversity here. But things have changed a lot and I now really love my beautiful Clarke County.”

Evidence of Clarke County’s cultural openness was easy to find at last night’s meeting.

After a pot-luck feast of foods from around the world, visitors from Thailand performed traditional Thai folk dances for the captivated audience. The visiting Thai five-member  Group Study Exchange Team is being sponsored by the Clarke County Rotary Club according to this year’s local Rotary president, Dale Coumes. “The group is spending five weeks here in Virginia before heading home to Thailand on April 10th. It’s a great way for our community to experience other cultures.”

Orathai Tiangtam of Thailand performs at CCHS Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee dinner - Photo Ed Leonard

Orathai Tiangtam of Thailand performs at CCHS Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee dinner - Photo Ed Leonard

Cindy Norton, the mother of six children and five CCHS graduates, is currently hosting Khaled, an exchange student from Malaysia. Norton has hosted nearly a dozen exchange students in her Clarke County home over the years, including three from Russia. “Part of the reason for doing it is to promote better relations between the U.S. and other countries. My family’s first student came just after the Cold War had ended and we wanted to demonstrate that we weren’t the big, bad Americans that the Soviets portrayed us to be. This is a way to breakdown the stereotypes built up by the news media.” But while Norton’s actions may have a positive global impact, there are also more personal benefits. “It has really been the greatest experience,” she added.

Tanya Barton, local coordinator for the Program for Academic Exchange (PAX) says that our area really does value cultural diversity. “Even though Purcellville’s school system is bursting at the seams they still want to have exchange students. I’m placing a student from Kazakhstan in Loudoun County next week.”

PAX places international students aged 15 years to 18 years in Clarke, Loudoun, and Jefferson county homes. PAX is federally funded and offers scholarship programs that help students to participate. Barton is currently receiving PAX profiles from exchange students that would like to experience Clarke County’s culture and hospitality. Families interested in hosting a student can visit the PAX website ( or contact Tanya Barton  by  email at or phone (cell: 540-454-0057 or home: 540-955-9135).

PAX currently has five students residing with host families here in Clarke County. This is the second in a series of interviews that will allow you to meet Clarke’s international guests through their own words:

CDN: What is your name:
Amaia: My name is Amaia Badiola

CDN: Where are you from?
Amaia: I’m from Gernika, a village in the Basque Country in Spain

CCHS PAX Student Amaia Badiola

CCHS PAX Student Amaia Badiola

CDN: How old are you?
Amaia: I just turned 16

CDN: When did you arrive in the US?
Amaia: I arrived in New York on August 11 and I stayed there for 3 days then I came to Virginia on August 14
CDN: Had you been here before?
Amaia: Yes, I’ve been here twice before, visiting the states of Missouri,  Florida, New York, and Virginia.

CDN: How does the US education system compare to your home country’s education  system?
Amaia: It’s very different from the school system in my country but I go to school the same amount of hours I go here. My school routine is pretty much the  same as here although in Spain I get to go home for lunch.

CDN: What is your favorite class at Clarke County High School? Why?
Amaia: My favorite class in CCHS is probably my math class, because I really like how the teacher interacts with the students and how she teaches, it makes me  feel comfortable in the class.

CDN: Are your classes here more difficult or less difficult than your classes at  home? Why?
Amaia: I think there is more homework to do here than in my school in Spain but I also think that the tests and exams are much harder in Spain and that due  days are more strict. So, overall, I think my classes in Spain are harder.

CDN: Clarke County has been debating whether the books “The Color Purple” and  “The Hand Maiden’s Tale” should be included in the advanced reading program?  As a visitor from another country, what is your opinion about this?
Amaia: Well, I don’t really know that much about this problem but it’s not  something that worries me. I am really fond of reading and I spend a lot of  time reading books and I think that it’s not such a big deal for students in  High School to read that kind of books because in my opinion a High Schooler  should be able to read and don’t panic about bad words or common issues  that are part of our society and because I think that what our experience in  High School should teach is that the world is not `pink color` and that there is a world out there that is not as ours but harder and more dangerous  and that we really need to know about other countries and not focus only in  ours.

CDN: What have you enjoyed the most about your time in the US?
Amaia: I would say that I enjoyed everything I’ve done in here so far. As everything is new, everything is a new experience which makes it exciting  and fun. I’m always willing for new experiences in my year trip

CDN: What have you enjoyed the least about your time in the US?
Amaia: Well, I’m pretty sure that what I enjoyed least is the day before a History test because I’m the type of person that leaves everything for the last day.

CCHS PAX Student Amaia Badiola (center) at Washington Monument

CCHS PAX Student Amaia Badiola (center) at Washington Monument

CDN: Brag about yourself a little.
Amaia: Well, I consider my self a bit brave. The decision to come to the US was  made when I was 14. When I first heard my mom talking about how that would  be a good experience for me, I panicked, I thought she was going crazy  wanting to send me to the US for my Junior year and leaving all my actual  life there. As I considered it, my mom was already asking for the papers I  had to fill in to come. This was making me even more worried, she wasn’t  joking. Finally, I thought “It’s probably, a once in a life time experience  and I have to try even though it means leaving everything behind for a whole  year” so I filled everything in, not knowing if I was doing right but knowing that this wouldn’t be a year wasted but a new experience that would  always mean a lot in my life. I owe my mom a lot for signing me in, I’ve  never regretted my decision and I doubt I’m going to.

CDN: What are your plans for the future?
Amaia: I would like to go to college to study Business administration. Graduating from college with the degree of business administration has been a goal in my life for quite a long time

CDN: Would you recommend a PAX experience to another member of your family? Why  or why not?
Amaia: Well, I’m proud of saying that my two sisters have already done been a PAX  student for a year in the US. That was how my mom came up with the idea of  sending me. They both had a great experience and still talk to their host  family, they are really close.  But, of course, I would totally recommend the experience not to my family  but to my friends because is not something that improves your English but makes you grow as a person.


  1. ana badiola says:

    hi im Amaia Badiola’s sister Ana and i also had the Pax experience here.the family where my sister is staying right now, it was originally mine (and still is). they are awesome. i really recommend this experience to everyone, not only as a way of studying languages but as a self fulfilling experience. im really glad i came two years ago because i grew as a person and it made my family bigger. i’m really close to my family and ill always be thankful to them for having me here as i also said before they are awesome.
    thanks for the interview you gave to my sister, it will make my grandparents in Gernika very happy!