As an exchange student, it’s bubbly Kartika Nurahayati’s job to indroduce herself and her culture to Americans - and to bring home to Indonesia an understanding of the United States. Sometimes that’s a little tricky. Like what exactly does her American sister eat for breakfast?
Kartika Nurahayti : “We usually have a lot of fruits at the house, but we rarely get mangos at home. One morning Rebecca was going to school, and she asked me if I can peel the mango. I said, Rebecca, do you want me to peel our cat?”
It turned out Mango the cat was perfectly safe. Sixteen year-old Rebecca assured her of that. She’s a vegetarian like the rest of the Kimmelfield family.
Rebecca Kimmelfield: “It was pretty funny. She was pretty scared. I was talking about the fruit, but I guess she didn’t realize that cause it was early in the morning.”
At 17, Kartika is very different from your typical American teenager. She is pleasant but deferential. Expressing her opinion to adults doesn’t come easily. At school she wears a hijab - the headscarf some Muslim women wear to show modestly. Her clothes - while trendy—cover her from wrist to ankle.
Kartika says it wasn’t easy talking her very strict parents into traveling to America alone.
Bob Kimmelfield —who Kartika calls her American dad—says he understands parental hesitation. He commiserated with Kartika’s father by phone just last week.
Bob Kimmelfield: “I told him what Kartika had told me about him being overprotective, and how when she told me that I said your father has let you go halfway around the world to stay with people who he’s never met—and that doesn’t sound overprotective. He got a laugh out of that.”
Kimmelfield is Jewish. Wife Margaret Krolkowski is Catholic. Children Rebecca, Bruce and Leon are still deciding. This is the family’s first experience hosting an exchange student.
Bob Kimmelfield: “This seemed like it would work well. We needed a little more diversity —and we found it.”
The YES program, short for Youth Exchange and Study, was created by the U.S. State Department and Congress after Sept. 11th. The idea was to initiate diplomacy with the Muslim world through its teenagers. Making 16 to 18 year olds agents of World Peace is a pretty heavy load for young adults, but Kartika seems to welcome it.
Kartika Nurahayti i: “Actually, before I come here I didn’t really pay attention a lot with what is happening in the world. I mean, I care about my country, but whatever, other countries having war? Oh...Right now when I have a Jewish dad and a Catholic mom, and I feel connected.” (MORE)