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Her first Thanksgiving

Czech exchange student enjoys life in Masury

Staff photo / Bob Coupland Valerie Smidova of the Czech Republic is a foreign exchange student staying with the Carowick family in Masury. Valerie, a junior at Badger High School, will celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time with her host family. Her host mom, Kara Carowick, said 20 people will be at their Thanksgiving feast.

MASURY — Valerie Smidova never has experienced Thanksgiving, having lived in the Czech Republic. But she will this year, staying with the Carowick family in Masury — who plan to have 20 people for the celebration.

Valerie, 16, a junior attending Joseph Badger High School, will stay with the Carowicks through June 6. She arrived in August.

“We celebrate Christmas and Easter but not Thanksgiving. I have learned there is a lot of food and a lot of people having fun on Thanksgiving,” she said.

Kara Carowick said she is planning a large feast.

“I am thankful for my family and my host family and my friends that we are healthy and can do so much,” Valerie said.

In her Giving Thanks letter to the Tribune Chronicle, she wrote: “I am thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful that we have good health, that we can travel and that we make new memories. I am thankful for another new day.”

“We want her to experience the American lifestyle and Thanksgiving is part of that,” Carowick said.

Carowick said she knows Debbie VanWinkle, who coordinates foreign exchange students getting placed with host families in northeast Ohio.

“I was talking to her one day and mentioned how we have a horse barn and board 25 horses, and she said she has students who would love to come here and experience what we can offer. Taking care of someone else’s child is something you don’t take very lightly. We decided to go ahead and host a student,” she said.

The family reviewed four applicants and decided on Valerie.

“She said she liked horses and wanted to experience a big family since she was a single child. We have a big family. We knew we had our girl,” Carowick said.

She said in addition to she and her husband Kelly, there are son, Koal; and daughter, Sara, and her fiance, Cody; and son, Lawson, 15 months.

“We treat her just like she is a member of the family. We refer to her as Aunt Valerie. When we selected her, we had to wait for her to decide if she wanted to come her and stay with us,” Carowick said.

Valerie said she likes to have older siblings but had to get used to the baby.

She said she selected the family because she felt she would fit in there, as well as with Badger students. She also is on the girls basketball team and attended the homecoming dance wearing an emerald green dress.

“I am very comfortable here. I used to ride horses for eight years, so I like that they have horses,” Valerie said.

She helps the family feed and take care of the horses after school and on weekends.

While Badger schools has fewer students than her school in the Czech Republic, which has 600, the Badger school building is much bigger.

When she returns home, she will need to take tests in math, English and Czech, and if she passes, she doesn’t have to take the classes over. Her work in the U.S. does not count for graduation in the Czech Republic.

Valerie said the teachers and students at Badger schools are very supportive. She said she lives in a rural area in Czech Republic, and Masury also is rural.

The family has taken Valerie to the Akron Zoo, Kraynaks, Cedar Point and the All-American Quarterhorse Congress.

Carowick said they are planning a trip to Washington, D.C.

“Our community has been very friendly to her. She tells me how nice and polite everyone is. That is refreshing considering what our country is going through. The United States is not what it was like 20 years ago,” she said.

Valerie said after she speaks to people, they ask her from where she comes.

She said COVID-19 caused many deaths and a lot of sickness in the Czech Republic.

“It is still pretty bad. There was a lot of quarantines and lockdowns. I did not go to school for one whole year. I did not get to see my friends,” she said.

Valerie lives near the capital of Prague, which is the largest city. She likes watching hockey, a popular sport in the Czech Republic. Carowick said they plan to go to a Youngstown Phantoms hockey game.

“At dinner time we always sit down and talk about our day and current events. It can get funny and crazy,” Carowick said.

Valerie said she keeps in touch with her family and tells them all she has done while in Trumbull County. She said she likes movies and comedian Adam Sandler.

“I am very thankful for her parents. How brave they are to let their teenage daughter go to another country. That is huge. I don’t know if I could do that. Her parents are remarkable and have done an amazing job,” Carowick said.

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