FAIRFIELD COUNTY — The backs of their lime green shirts are emblazoned with the words “Carolina Girls,” but the four teenage volunteers sitting in the Fairfield Central High School cafeteria are anything but.
Dasha Teslenko, Bibiana “Sissy” Jordan, Caroline Claes and Karen Scalon hail from Russia, Hungary, Belgium and Brazil, respectively, and are visiting the state as part of the Lions International Youth Camp and Exchange Program.
“We (Paul and Bobbie Dove) have two Lions Youth Exchange Students,” said Paul Dove, who is hosting Teslenko and Jordan. “Bill and Linda Haslett are hosting two students too.”
In addition to being members of the Winnsboro Lions Club, the Hasletts and Doves are active as adult leaders for the Salkehatchie Summer Service, a servant ministry involving high school and college students.
This year, the exchange program and Salkehatchie’s annual Fairfield County camp were concurrent.
“The bottom line is these just happen to coincide,” Dove said.
This coincidence means Salkehatchie gained international volunteers. Dove pointed out it also allows the foreign exchange program participants to see a less internationally represented side of the United States.
The four girls uniformly said they are enjoying the service aspect of their two-week stay in Fairfield County.
“It’s great to help the Salkehatchie group,” Claes said.
The four girls also said they are enjoying meeting new people and their submersion in U.S. culture.
“It’s great to meet new people,” Jordan said.
Scalon said she has also enjoyed meeting new people.
The exchange program participants said they were pleasantly surprised by how jovial people are in the United States and how easily the humor translated.
Teslenko said the atmosphere of the buzzing cafeteria, which serves as an air-conditioned mess hall for Salkehatchie volunteers, reminds her of U.S. movies.
Before traveling to South Carolina, pop culture introduced the state to the girls.
Jordan said she was familiar with South Carolina because of a Nicholas Sparks novel, and Teslenko said she had heard of Charleston, because of its inclusion in “Gone With the Wind.”
The exchange program participants’ time in Fairfield County has included some moments of culture clash. The girls were universally flummoxed by the prevalence of ice in beverages.
There was also some early conflict, as Teslenko’s luggage was temporarily misplaced.
“I had to say, ‘My name is Dasha, I’m from Russia, and I’ve lost my luggage,’” Teslenko said before laughing at the near rhyme.
Teslenko, Jordan, Claes and Scalon will spend a total of two weeks with their host families in Fairfield County before traveling the state, seeing the mountains, amusement parks, museums and more in the process.
The girls said they are excited to see more of South Carolina, but Claes said she is also excited to witness a more local phenomenon.
“I look forward to Shaggin’ in the Street,” Claes said.
Haslett has already broadened their cultural understanding by imparting a set of ideals he finds particularly important. Haslett is confident he has explained the University of South Carolina and Clemson University rivalry and minted four new Gamecocks fans, although the girls remain skeptical of the university’s choice in mascots.
“They’re Carolina fans now,” Haslett said. “They won’t wear orange anymore.”
Reach Ben Hohenstatt at 803-635-4016. Follow him on Twitter @WinnsboroHerald