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New Faces: From the other side of the world, to Perham

Fikrirrahmat, from Indonesia, and Elshan Mirzazade, from Azerbaijan, will spend a year living with host Mary Anderson of Perham, getting first hand experiences as American high school students. Connie Vandermay/FOCUS

Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series spotlighting foreign exchange students in the Perham and New York Mills school districts.

Sixteen-year-old Fikrirrahmat and 17-year-old Elshan Mirzazade arrived in Perham in August and have since formed a respectful and fun relationship with each other, as well as their host, Mary Anderson.

In an interview, the two shared stories from their homes on the other side of the world, as well as their first thoughts about America.

Fikrirrahmat is from tropical Indonesia, a series of islands located southeast of Asia. It's an agricultural country with 300 different tribal languages; the main language is called Bahasa Indonesia.

Probably one of the most noticeable cultural differences between there and here is that surnames are not given in Indonesia until a person dies, Fikrirrahmat said. That's why he has just one name.

It's for this reason Mirzazade jokingly calls him, "Fikri-no-surname."

Mirzazade is from Azerbaijan and he has his own nickname courtesy of Fikrirrahmat -"Azerbaijan," because it's more fun to say than Elshan.

Azerbaijan, located on the Caspian Sea, is known as a "Land of Flame" because of the high amount of oil it produces. It neighbors with Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Russia.

Back in Indonesia, Fikrirrahmat is the youngest of six kids, and his parents work on a rubber farm.

Mirzazade has a twin brother at home. His mom is an engineer and his dad works as a consultant for promoting exportation of goods.

Both boys are from large cities. Though Perham would be considered a village in their own land, the boys are enjoying Perham's clean and quiet streets.

Fikrirrahmat said, "We don't sweep roads in Indonesia."

The boys share a Muslim faith, and take part in prayer services five times a day. The prayers are said in Arabic.

It's partly because they are from Muslim practicing countries that the boys qualified for a United States federally-sponsored scholarship to come to America.

Fikrirrahmat was one of 80 winners of the federal Youth Exchange and Study Program, established one year after 9-11. He competed against 9,000 other applicants.

Mirzazade was one of 33 who won the federal Future Leaders Exchange scholarship, established in 1992 after the Soviet Union broke apart. He competed against 800 applicants.

The goal of both scholarship programs is to bring young people over to experience American culture, as well as help Americans understand and become friendlier with people of different religions and cultures.

As part of the scholarship requirement, the boys have to give three presentations about their culture and their faith, volunteer for 50 hours each, and help with civic projects.

They currently help out at the Boys and Girls Club in Perham, library and with the special olympics.

"Anyone who needs volunteers, call us," Fikrirrahmat said with a laugh.

Both boys are finding American cuisine "different, but good."

Fikrirrahmat ate sloppy joes for the first time, a new favorite though it's not spicy enough. If one doesn't sweat when they eat, then they aren't truly eating, he said.

Mirzazade is used to blander foods made with lots of fresh vegetables and seafood.

Fikrirrahmat said a week into school he feels like he is on vacation because school in Indonesia runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week, studying 14 subjects a day. While here in America, Fikrirrahmat is trying to decide if he will go to college for engineering or become a business manager when he is done with high school back home.

Mirzazade said his country spends less time in school. He graduated from high school last spring, after studying for 11 years, and was accepted into college for chemical engineering. He has since taken a sabbatical to study in America for a year.

Besides the occasional weird question like, "Do you eat dog meat?," Mirzazade said Americans are friendly and happy people. And whenever he has questions of his own, Americans are "ready to help at every moment."

Mirzazade said he is here because, "I want to have friends in many countries." And Fikrirrahmat readily agreed.