AFS brings 8 international students to central peninsula

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Faris Khawdlden’s last name.

A handful of visitors have been walking the halls at central Kenai Peninsula high schools this year, bringing a variety of perspectives from around the world with them.

The Central Kenai Peninsula chapter of the nonprofit AFS international student exchange program brought eight high school students to the Kenai/Soldotna area this year from countries all over Europe and the Middle East, stretching from Norway to Egypt. They have spent the year attending Kenai Central High School, Nikiski Middle-High School and Soldotna High School, taking classes and learning about Alaska.

Students don’t always identify Alaska as their first choice for a destination, said Laura Sievert, one of the organizers. Some of them, like Faris Khawdlden, who hails from Jordan, have never seen snow before. After review, he’s decided he likes it best when it’s freshly fallen, he said.

The students took the opportunity to play on the high schools’ sports teams, too. One student, Preben Strende from Norway, played basketball on Kenai Central High School’s basketball team, and another, Zeina Abouelkheir from Egypt, swam with Soldotna High School’s swim team this year.

Khawdlden played on Kenai Central’s football team last fall. American football, as it’s known internationally, isn’t as widespread in Jordan, and he learned on a previous visit to Houston, Texas and by watching videos before joining the team, he said.

“It was really nice (to play),” he said.

Kenai Central was a different kind of high school experience for him, he said. While he speaks English as well as Arabic, some subjects were easier than others — physics particularly presented a challenge to study in English, he said. When he graduates high school, he said he plans to go to college and study medicine to one day become a neurologist, and in Jordan, medical school classes are taught in English too, he said.

Though he said he’s excited to go home and see his family, he said he’ll also miss his host family in Kenai.

“I really feel like I’m part of the family,” he said. “… I don’t want to leave and also I do.”

Two Kenai-area students took off as part of the exchange program and are currently studying in Japan and Spain, Sievert wrote in an email. The students in the central peninsula are divided between two AFS programs — a core program and a sponsored program, which brings students from Germany and from Muslim-majority countries. The sponsored program was established after the events of 9/11 to give Americans a chance to meet and understand people from Muslim countries, Sievert said.

“Sitka and Kenai are the two towns of the state of Alaska that we always have a cluster of (sponsored) students,” she said. “…It’s pretty cool, actually. There’s exchanges going on in both sides of any (program).”

Every student has a host family he or she stays with as well as an adult liaison to help support them, Sievert wrote in an email. The program is always seeking host families and liaisons, and already has two students headed for Kenai for next year.

“As well as we get kids from more typical countries, like western Europe, Thailand … we always make an effort to have kids from (less common) areas,” she said.

The central peninsula AFS is planning its annual fundraiser dinner this Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai off Spruce Street. Attendees will meet the students and try food from their home countries. Tickets are available for $25 for adults and $10 for kids age 14 and younger from volunteers, River City Books in Soldotna and by calling 690-2779.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at

More in News

The Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 1, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska House passes budget with roughly $2,275 payments to residents, bill goes to Senate

The bill also includes a roughly $175 million, one-time increase in aid to school districts that would be paid according to a funding formula

The Kenai River flows near Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. The Riverfront Redevelopment project will impact much of Soldotna’s riverside areas downstream to the bridge. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna riverfront redevelopment planning moves forward

Soldotna City Council on Monday unanimously approved the creation of a project manager to shepherd the Riverfront Redevelopment Project

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Corey Cannon, who plays baseball as part of Soldotna Little League, speaks to the Soldotna City Council during their meeting in Soldotna on Wednesday.
Soldotna Little League receives donation for facility repairs

The city owns the fields, but the Little League leases the land and is responsible for the maintenance of the facilities

Aleutian Airways logo. Photo courtesy of Aleutian Airways
Aleutian airways to halt Homer service during runway project

Service will be suspended beginning April 15

Homer pedestrian pathway project selected for federal funding

The project will create greater nonmotorized transportation access in Homer

Vendors speak to attendees of the Kenai Peninsula Job and Career Fair in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Job Fair draws employers, seekers

The Job Center has options and opportunities to connect people with training, coaching and funding

Vanessa Uei checks in guests during a grand opening for AK Wellness & Tanning in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, April 6, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
AK Wellness & Tanning holds grand opening for new location

The expanded location is along the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai

The Kenai Senior Center’s dining space is readied for the annual March for Meals fundraiser in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Photo by Ken Aaron, provided by Kenai Senior Center)
March for Meals raises funds to support senior food service

The local event was organized by Kenai Senior Connection and hosted at the Kenai Senior Center

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
An array of solar panels stand in the sunlight at Whistle Hill in Soldotna on Sunday.
Federal grant awarded for Whistle Hill solar project

The annual production of the completed system is estimated to be enough electricity to power 19 homes

Most Read