Pine-Richland foreign exchange program expands students' horizons

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:31 p.m.

Nina Koepplinger, 16, of Vienna, Austria, wanted to see how Americans really live, compared to those in movies and TV shows.

“I wanted to speak English fluently,” said Nina, who arrived in the United States last month to spend a semester at Pine-Richland High School.

Until January, Nina is living with a Pine family selected through AFS Intercultural Programs.

The nonprofit group also arranged for Nicole Schlotterbeck, 17, of Pine — a senior at Pine-Richland High School — to spend six weeks with a family in Japan.

Students and parents can learn more about such travel and study opportunities at AFS Information Night from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 17 in the library of Pine-Richland High School.

“AFS has been the leading international high school student exchange program in the United States for 60 years,” said Lauren Super, co-sponsor of the school's Global Relations Club.

Twenty-eight of the school's students have traveled abroad through AFS Intercultural Programs, according to Super.

Ninety students from other countries also have lived with local families while attending Pine-Richland High School.

“There are some wonderful opportunities, including scholarships, that have early fall application dates,” said Jill Brethauer of Richland, a volunteer with AFS Intercultural Programs.

Current and past exchange students will be available during the information night to share experiences.

During her recent summer trip to Asia, Nicole Schlotterbeck lived with a family in suburban Nara, Japan, while she attended a Japanese-language school in Osaka.

“It was the best summer of my life,” Nicole said. “The food was amazing.”

Nicole spoke little Japanese when she left Pittsburgh in June. Now, she thinks she might study the language in college.

“I just love Japan,” she said. “I think their culture is very different — very community based.”

Nicole routinely spent evenings watching TV with her host family — Seki and Yoshimi Sekiawa and their two children. “We watched the news a lot,” she said.

Susan Torchia of Pine, a para-educator at Richland Elementary School, applied in April to host an exchange student through AFS Intercultural Programs. Her daughters — Rebecca Torchia, 17, and Marissa Torchia, 14 — attend Pine-Richland High School.

“We agreed we would give this a try,” Susan Torchia said. “All three of us had to go through background checks.”

A volunteer with AFS International Programs also visited the Torchias' home in Avonlea Estates before the Torchias selected Nina Koepplinger from biographies of available exchange students.

“She's really easy to get along with,” Torchia said.

In Vienna, Nina speaks German and lives in an apartment with her parents, Rainer and Claudia Koepplinger, who both work outside the home.

At her local high school — the Goethe Gymnasium — classes are harder than classes at Pine-Richland High School, Nina said.

“We have geography every year. We have biology every year. We have physics every year,” said Nina. “I think it's really cool that you can choose your classes here.”

Nina also enjoys the variety of stores available at places such as the Ross Park Mall.

“There are so many names we don't have in Austria,” she said.

Nina also reported a new fondness for pizza, lasagna and other Italian foods, plus a new appreciation for American kitchen habits.

“Here, you don't cook so much,” she said.

After visiting Mt. Washington and other local sites, Nicole reported another striking aspect of Pittsburgh: “You have so many bridges.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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