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Life at Louisiana High School is slower for Rotary Club exchange student Gaywen Muliloto-Tokava than it was in his native Lyon, France, but he’s hardly complaining.
Muliloto-Tokava has been here since last July and has now assimilated into the rural culture of Pike County after moving from France’s second- largest city.
“It was hard at the beginning but now I really like it,” he said. “I just went to Chicago and I couldn’t stand all the traffic and people. I wanted to come back here where it was quiet.”
Muliloto-Tokava’s parents were born on the island of Wallis, a French territory near Australia.
“It’s very small, about as big as Louisiana,” he said. “It’s like your Hawaii.”
The family moved France, where the 16-year-old was born.
The exchange student is impressed with the politeness of Missourians and has fallen in love with the landscape.
“My dream was to see the Mississippi River,” he said. “I can cross if off my bucket list now.”
When the leaves started turning last fall, Muliloto-Tokava found himself surrounded by colorful beauty at the rural Pike County home of initial hosts John and Karen Stoeckley.
He is now living in Louisiana with Charles and Barbara Deacon for the second semester.
“They’re all very nice people and very good cooks,” he said.
American food is “very, very different,” than French cuisine, the exchange student said.
“There’s a lot of fried foods and sodas,” and he’s enjoyed the new flavors of pumpkin and cinnamon.
“I like chicken salad, but I don’t like the soda,” he said. “Students here ask me if we eat snails (escargot) in France and I say, ‘Yes we do and I like it.’ ”
The culture is different too.
“I didn’t know country music and rap were so famous here,” he said. “In France, it’s mostly American pop.”
People in America “aren’t afraid to talk about money and show it. People are very open here,” Muliloto-Tokava added.
“It’s a big change from living in the city to the country. Everything is more laid back here, there’s no stress.”
Muliloto-Tokava also recently did something he said would never happen in Lyon.
“My friends took me sleighing and I liked it.”
Muliloto-Tokava thought his American school would be harder on him than in France but has found the opposite.
In Lyon, Muliloto-Tokava gets to school at 8 a.m. and it isn’t over until 5 or 6 p.m., depending on the day.
“The days are too long and sometimes we have school on Saturday too,” he said.
Learning to speak English is obligatory in France and studying other languages is encouraged.
“I took English, Spanish and Japanese,” Muliloto-Tokava said. “I really like the Japanese culture, but the language is hard to learn. There are more than 8,000 symbols,” in Japan’s written language.
American high school is not as demanding as it is in France, he added.
“They expect more there than they do here and in France, you have a main tree of subjects you have to do,” he said. “Here you can choose.
“You have a lot of freedom in high school here,” he said. “I was surprised you can come here in the morning and do your homework.
“The teachers help you a lot,” which is not necessarily the case in Lyon.
Muliloto-Takava was a competitive swimmer in France for many years but grew tired of it. He recently joined the Louisiana track team.
As his year winds down, Muliloto-Takava said his experience would not have been possible without his Louisiana Rotary Club sponsors.
“Thanks to the Rotary Club for welcoming me here, thanks to the high school and thank you for Pike County, Missouri,” he said.