METHUEN — After hearing about a program that helped students see other cultures and to get a better education, Guljigit “Jigu” Kursantbek knew he wanted to be a part of it.
“I wanted to learn more about America and the culture,” the 17-year-old resident of Kyrgyzstan said. “ America is not one culture. There are many, and the education is better of course.”
In August, Kursantbek embarked on his adventure as a foreign-exchange student with his host family the Waltas and in September began attending Methuen High School .
“(The high school) is pretty cool even though it doesn’t have any walls,” said Kursantbek, describing the school’s open-concept plan. “The kids are really friendly, and I have a lot of friends.”
One thing Kursantbek realized immediately was having Ranger Pride.
“I really love it, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said.
Kursantbek joined the soccer team before school started in the fall, allowing him to make friends with his classmates even before classes began.
“They thought I was a superstar in soccer, because that’s all I play in my country,” Kursantbek said. “We don’t have football or baseball.”
Kursantbek wasn’t a fan of either football or baseball but quickly learned the passion New England has for its teams.
“I used to hate football. I thought it was all fighting,” Kursantbek said. “I thought baseball was just boring. Now, I’m a huge Patriots and Red Sox fan.”
Kursantbek learned the rules of the games through his friends and host family and plans on returning the favor to his friends back home.
“I bought football guards and balls and baseball bats and balls,” Kursantbek said. “I’m bringing those sports to my country. I’m going to teach my friends (how to play).”
Kursantbek not only played soccer for the MHS Rangers, but he also ran track and field in the winter and played varsity tennis in the spring after taking lessons for two months at Cedardale.
Thanks to his host family, he had the opportunity to see more of America than just Massachusetts.
“They do fun things,” Kursantbek said. “We went to ( Los Angeles) for Christmas, took a trip to Niagara Falls. We went skiing and bowling. I got lucky. They made my year really good over here.”
Kursantbek couldn’t believe the size of Niagara Falls.
“That was huge, especially on the Canadian side,” he said. “I never saw a waterfall that huge before. It was beautiful and awesome.”
Before Kursantbek returned to his country (his flight home was Thursday), his host mom Laura took him to her alma mater, Tufts University in Medford.
“I want to come back here for college. I like it here,” Kursantbek said. “I’m possibly going to study (at Tufts). I have to pass SATs first.”
Kursantbek said his country does not do SAT testing, so he would either have to go to Russia or Kazakhstan to take the test. He plans to study international relations. He has lofty goals.
“I want to become a politician and become president of my country,” he said.
Kursantbek said he paid particularly close attention to American politics during his stay because his country also has a democratic form of government. He took American government and U.S. history classes at MHS.
When Kursantbek arrives home he will have about two weeks to study for finals before he graduates from the Turkish boarding school he attends.
Kursantbek is fluent in five languages (Kyrgyz, Russian, English, Uzbek and Turkish) and is studying Spanish. He plans to learn Chinese and French in the next two years and claims he wants to learn more than 10 languages.
“It’s very easy once you learn a second language,” Kursantbek said. “You learn the strategy of how to study and learn. That makes it a lot easier.”