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December 8, 2013

Oneonta's Foreign Exchange Student Program got green light 55 years ago

“A foreign exchange student, attending classes at Oneonta High School, looms somewhere near in the future.”

The Oneonta Star of Thursday, Dec. 4, 1958 continued, “The possibility of obtaining such a student is no longer remote since various segments of the community have indicated interest and willingness to support such a program, it was learned yesterday.”

The idea of such an exchange program came from what was then the OHS Home-School Community Unit, a group that had researched, corresponded with other schools sponsoring the program and heard a foreign exchange student speak here. The group was looking to bring the first student to Oneonta for the 1959-60 school year.

The student was sponsored at that time by the American Field Service. Felix Barnett, a future president of Wilber National Bank, was Oneonta’s AFS representative, as well as a member of the OHS Home-School Community Unit. A letter campaign sent to various organizations around Oneonta had been launched to seek support in the fall of 1958.

Charles Belden, OHS principal, said in that letter that the OHS Student Council had offered to underwrite half of the needed $650 to sponsor a student.

“However, the exchange committee believes this should be a community project,” Belden said.

The letter campaign was no doubt a success, as the Star reported that the first exchange student arrived here in mid-August.

“Miss Marketta Karkinen, 18-year-old Finnish honor student, who hopes to become a doctor, is now settled with her ‘foster parents for a year,’ Dr. and Mrs. Carroll E. Rusch, 35 Center St.,” according to the Star of Saturday, Aug. 22, 1959.

At some point during the 1959-60 school year, OHS received a second exchange student, Said Farid, a 22-year-old Iranian student.

Upon receiving students from abroad, the work soon began to raise funds and make plans for the first OHS student to study overseas. Moneymaking projects were planned in the fall of 1959.

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