SIDNEY — When people visit foreign countries for any length of time, it’s often food from home they miss the most.
That’s the case with Ruzana “Rose” Yazhyan, 16, an exchange student from Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti, Georgia, who is a junior at Fairlawn High School. So, when she saw an opportunity to not only have Georgian food, herself, but to share it with people in Sidney, she jumped at it. That opportunity was provided by Gary Strasser, manager of Clancy’s.
Strasser has offered international meals at the fast-food eatery a couple times each month for years. Yazhyan’s host parents, Maribel and Cory Hueslkamp, of Sidney, took Yazhyan and their other Fairlawn exchange student, Moni Graaff, 16, of Korschenbroich, Germany, to one such meal.
“Will he make Georgian food?” Yazhyan asked her host dad.
“Ask him,” Huelskamp said.
She did and Strasser agreed. The Georgian menu will be available Feb. 1 at the restaurant, 1250 Wapakoneta Ave., from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., for $6.99. It will include Ossetia chicken, green beans and tea cake.
From 5 to 7 p.m., Yazhyan will serve the meals, answer questions from diners and talk about her home country.
“Ossetia is one of the great regions (of Georgia),” Yazhyan said. “It is so beautiful.” Ossetia chicken describes how poultry is prepared in the region, not birds from the region, she said. Strasser found the recipe on the Internet.
“It’s sort of a chicken stew,” he said. The dish will have chicken, potatoes, onions, coriander, parsley, garlic and sour cream in it. The green beans will be fried. And the tea cake, not just a cake to eat with tea, has tea as an ingredient.
Yazhyan thinks students from Fairlawn will try it out and hopes others will, too.
“I made a presentation during the school year and students wanted to know what Georgian food was like, so students will come,” she said. Strasser thinks that the unusual offering will bring in more than the “regulars” who enjoy his international meals.
“It’s something totally new. I think it will attract a different clientele,” he said. His special “server” is eager to meet the diners, “because I’m here to share my culture and teach them about Georgia,” she said.
The chicken dish is not among the foods Yazhyan misses most. Those would be khachapuri, a bread stuffed with cheese; khinkali, a dumpling with beef, pork or a mixture of the two meats; and Georgian bread.
“American bread is soft and sweet. Georgian bread is salty,” Yazhyan said.
She’s not the only one who misses a crusty European loaf. Graaff craves some “good German bread,” she said.
Her new Georgian “sister” has cooked some native dishes at the Huelskamp home. Some of it was not too different from noodles that Graaff eats in Germany, but “the bread was totally new and good to me,” she said. She hopes to take some Georgian recipes home with her.
“One day, I made kingele, a Georgian salad,” Yazhyan said. Its ingredients were corn, cilantro, onions, chopped chicken, salt, pepper, and oil or mayonnaise. For the most part, Huelskamp has enjoyed the foreign dishes. He and his wife have hosted exchange students for the last four years, but none of them has gotten into food as much as Yazhyan, he said.
“It’s fun,” he added.
The girls are in the U.S. through a program of the American Scandinavian Student Exchange (ASSE). Graaff is with its Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange. Yazhyan is with its Future Leaders Exchange, which is a service for students in former Soviet bloc countries. Neither girl had been in the U.S. before. They were somewhat surprised by what they found here.
“It’s very different from Georgia,” Yazhyan said. “I didn’t know students are driving in America. School is different. It’s easier. In Georgia, people are thinking America crime is a lot, but I didn’t see that. Here, I just meet nice people.”
“In Germany, everyone knows the movie, ‘High School Musical.’ I expected high school to be like that,” Graaf laughed. “We were told not to expect anything becuase it will never be like what you expect. I heard some sterotypes about Americans and I won’t say it’s true. I’m making my own ideas about how Americans are.”
Yazhyan appreciates that her teachers are funny.
“In Georgia, we have very serious teachers. And I like the freedom of America. Students can drive a car, they can have their own homes when they are 18. In Georgia, it’s not like that. Families are strong and we are staying together in the house,” she said.
“I like that Americans are proud to be Americans,” Graaff said. “They’re so proud of their country. And Americans are very friendly. As soon as they see something’s wrong, they will go and ask to help you.”
A member of Fairlawn’s volleyball and basketball teams, she particularly enjoys school spirit.
“That’s totally different from Germany — playing against schools and everyone is wearing the T-shirt of their school,” she said. On the other hand, “sometimes I think Americans are too much in their own world. Americans think they are the middle of the world. They don’t know about other countries,” she added.
Yazhyan couldn’t think of anything she doesn’t like about the U.S., except that she will eventually have to leave it.
“I will never be at home completely (in Georgia), because part of my heart will stay in Sidney, Ohio,” she said. “I am grateful to all the people who are making my American experience unforgettable. I will take all my memories with me forever. I know when I go back to Georgia, this one year will seem a long dream. I will miss every single day in America. Hopefully, I’ll come back.”
She will take many, many photographs home with her. Graaff will take scrapbooks. She encourages local families to consider hosting exchange students so more teens are able to experience this country as she has.
“I am learning so much and I think families learn, too,” she said.
The Huelskamps became involved when administrators at Lehman Catholic High School sought host families for foreign students there. They put a notice in the Holy Angels church bulletin. Four years ago, Huelskamp said, he and his wife hosted a Lehman student from Spain.
“Then we started choosing our own students,” he said. ASSE provides profiles of interested teens and requires that host families pass a U.S. State Department background check every year.
The girls have not been homesick at all. They visit with their families by phone or Skype every few weeks and, according to Yazhyan, are too busy here to miss their relatives. They are relishing their time in Sidney and believe that an ASSE motto is true: “It’s not a year in a life; it’s a life in a year.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.