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Diana Parra (center) of Bogotá, Colombia, spent the school year studying in Morris. Her host parents, Jill and Terry Dybdal, hoped that Diana could help their children, Brienna and Dane, learn more about Colombia. The Dybdals adopted Dane from Colombia in 2009.

Colombian exchange student bridges cultures

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Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

MORRIS – The first thing most people think about when they hear Diana Parra is from Colombia is drugs and narcotics trafficking.

But Diana, a foreign exchange student in Morris this year, wants people to know that there is more to Colombia, and that people shouldn't be nervous to travel there.

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“I talk about that kind of thing when I have the opportunity,” said Diana. “I wish they could have a different perspective about Colombia. It's my country and it's not like that.”

Diana's host parents, Terry and Jill Dybdal, also have a special connection to Colombia. The Dybdals adopted their son, Dane, in 2009 from a district in Bogotá near where Diana is from.

At the time, Terry, Jill and their daughter Brienna, spent five weeks in Colombia getting to know the country and their five-month-old son. But they also always knew they wanted to find a way to help Dane get to know his culture better, said Jill.

Although four-year-old Dane is a little too young to learn much about Colombia from Diana now, Terry said he hoped she'll be a connection for him when he is older.

At the moment, Dane's favorite activities with Diana are playing Super Mario and interrupting Skype calls back to Colombia.

Because she doesn't have younger siblings at home, Diana said she was worried about sharing this experience with little kids, “but then I realized that I have a really good connection with them,” she said.

Brienna, who was four when she went with her parents to pick up Dane, remembers some things about her visit and asks Diana a lot of questions about the country, Jill said.

“Both Brienna and Dane have gotten close to Diana, but I think especially Dane because of that bond,” said Jill.

“Someday we want to go back and visit Diana and I think he'll get a little bit more.”

“I told them they should go back to Colombia with more time – when they were there they were too busy with Dane's adoption and missed a lot of things they can do,” said Diana.

During her time in Morris, the Dybdals tried to help Diana experience life in the midwest, including a trip to the Minnesota State Fair right after she arrived last August.

At the Great Minnesota Get-Together Diana got to try the food she'd been craving – a corn dog. Over the last year, she has also visited the Mall of America, went to a P!nk concert in St. Paul, tried trick or treating and visited a corn maze in Litchfield.

Terry works on a family farm, so Diana had the chance to see a combine and wide-open landscapes that aren't common around Bogotá – “It was so pretty, I really liked that.”

Diana also experienced snow for the first time this winter, but like most of us she was pretty much over the weather by the end of the season. Although Bogotá is near the mountains, this was the first time Diana had seen snow; her aunt in New Jersey had to send her some boots and other snow gear.

“Jill makes fun of me – at the beginning I was so excited about it and then...” said Parra, trailing off.

“Now when I tell her it's snowing she groans,” finished Jill.

Diana tried to bring some of Colombia to Morris, trying to cook traditional foods like empanadas with mixed success.

“I can't say that we really perfected them,” said Jill.

Diana will be walking in graduation at the end of the month, but she still has three months of school to finish in Colombia after she heads on home on June 10 and before she can move forward with her college plans.

During her time in Morris, Diana interned with Image Xperts. Internships aren't common in Colombia, so this was a valuable experience.

“That's what I would like to study – it helped me to know if that's what I want to do,” she said.

Diana said coming to Morris “confused me about a lot of things in my life because I had never thought about studying in another country. But now I can see that as an opportunity.”

“I thought [studying abroad] was going to be harder, but I was blessed having this family because they really helped me – they made it easy for me to be here, that far away from my family,” said Parra.

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