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Teenager pursues American dream

Exchange student from Moldova wins scholarship to spend year at Bedford High

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Valeria Bujac, a girl from Moldova who is spending the school year at Bedford High School, with her host family Teresa Arnold, left, and her husband Ken, not pictured.

THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
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LAMBERTVILLE -- Valeria Bujac is new to Bedford Township and the United States, but the 17-year-old from Moldova said that so far, she's experienced no culture shock.

Valeria is spending the school year as a senior at Bedford High School and living with Lambertville residents Teresa and Ken Arnold. Asked if she has had any trouble adjusting, she shook her head. To the contrary, last week she was looking forward to homecoming weekend at the high school, enjoying school and the community. She spent a night at the high school as part of the Lock In, in which students decorated the building for the big weekend.

"I had a wonderful time," she said. "It's different from home here, but Americans are very, very friendly."

Valeria is here via a competitive scholarship she won from the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), a program funded by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development for students in countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.

"I took a lot of tests and wrote an essay," she explained. The process started in September of last year; in April she found out she had been selected for the scholarship.

The first time she applied, two years ago, she was unsuccessful, but as she put it, "I didn't want to give up on my American dream."

Valeria speaks excellent English, which she started learning at age 5, as well as the two languages she speaks at home, Romanian and Russian.

Her mother is a teacher of Romanian and her father is a truck driver who is between jobs. Valeria lives with them and a younger sister in the agricultural town of Mereni, which, with a population of 6,000, "is one of the biggest villages in the country," she said.

Moldova is a landlocked Eastern European country of about 4 million. Its western neighbor is Romania, while Ukraine borders it on the north, east, and south. It has been independent since 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved. In Soviet times it was called the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The country's name derives from the Moldova River. The country is a democracy with ambitions to join the European Union.

At home, Valeria is a top student who two years ago placed fourth in the country in her age group on an English skills test. She admits to being very competitive. "I can't stand for someone to be better than me," she said.

Valeria's scholarship imposes certain conditions, one of which is that she perform 50 hours of community service. To help satisfy this requirement, she spent a day "shadowing" Bedford Township Supervisor Walt Wilburn and getting a taste of the life of a public official.

Mr. Wilburn said she made a great impression on everyone.

"She's a real nice young girl. We enjoyed having her," he explained. "She had a lot of questions. We showed her around the township hall and gave her a tour."

Mr. Wilburn also introduced her at the Oct. 4 township board meeting and invited her to sit beside him during the proceedings.

Mrs. Arnold and her husband maintain a large vegetable garden that Valeria is quite at home working in.

"It's so nice having someone who knows how to pick beans," Mrs. Arnold said, adding that Valeria also makes an excellent borscht.

Valeria, for her part, said she intends to make the most of her American experience.

"Almost every teenager from Moldova has an American dream," she explained. "Everyone wants to see America, the land of democracy."

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