Seventeen-year-old exchange student Athira Farah Tirtadyani concluded her stay with the Servatis on June 15, as she headed back home to Indonesia. Partnering with the Youth for Understanding program, the Servatis hosted Athira for the past 10 months, allowing her to experience life as a senior at Van Alstyne High School.

Athira joined the senior class at VAHS, which introduced her to a wide range of American curriculum topics. While Athira found the government and English classes to be a bit challenging, she noted that she adapted well to all of her classes and enjoyed experiencing life as a high school senior.

Athira experienced a number of firsts through her trip, including senior prom and graduation.

“It was really unforgettable,” Athira said on attending prom.

Along with other VAHS students, Athira also participated in the school choir, which qualified for state competition. She also attended her first rodeo and played on the high school softball team before her thumb surgery ended her season early.

Additionally, Athira celebrated Christmas and Easter for the first time with her host family. Athira, who is Muslim, enjoyed celebrating the holidays with several generations of the Servati family and experiencing the closeness of their family unit.

Athira’s stay in Van Alstyne exposed her to a new way of life, while also giving her the opportunity to share about her faith and experiences with the community. Athira opened up to church communities in Howe and Van Alstyne about Islam and her culture.

“We have loved having Athira as part of our family,” Griff Servati, Athira’s exchange father and photo contributor for the Van Alstyne Leader, said. “She is an energetic, outgoing, fun and personable individual. We were blessed by her presence in our family.”

Servati praised Athira’s role in their family, as well as her openness to go new places and try new things.

The Servatis took Athira to Chicago over spring break, which Athira said was one of her favorite places. She also praised her time in Van Alstyne, remarking on the beauty of the landscape and the sunset that she was able to view every day.

Athira was particularly fond of the clear, wide-open scenery of her host home. She hails from a city setting, and appreciated the architecture of Van Alstyne, as well as the ease in traffic and crowds.

An important part of Athira’s experience was her assimilation into the Van Alstyne community, which taught her to overcome her shyness, approach people, talk to strangers, and not be afraid to meet new people. This has allowed for Athira to become less afraid of what people think.

“Now I just try to be more open and be myself a little more,” Athira said, noting that she is able to talk to people more after observing the friendly nature of the community.

Athira has been studying English since she was 6 years old and joined the exchange program based off her aunt’s recommendation in order to learn more about American culture and perfect her English. Though she left Indonesia with five friends to travel to Japan, they split ways in San Francisco, where all of her friends remained while she continued alone to Denver before arriving in Texas.

“I really recommend people to try to experience a new world on the other side,” Athira said of her travels across the world.

The Servatis have a history of hosting exchange students, which Servati said helps him to be a better father and experience things in the moment instead of delaying new opportunities. He praised exchange programs for allowing his family to see the world from different perspectives, which leads to understanding, excitement and acceptance of other cultures.

“My daughters will not judge based on things such as hijabs or groups of people because they (have) ‘family’ all over the world,” Servati said.

Families who have an interest in hosting exchange students should contact Griff Servati at griffva@gmail.com and Youth for Understanding at www.yfu.org.