Double the fun

Sliding into a new adventure, an Iola family adds a second exchange student. Charlie comes from Germany; Maira is from Malaysia.



February 3, 2022 - 9:44 AM

Paul Porter gives Maira Mohd Rais a push down a snowy hill at Riverside Park, with Hayley Derryberry at left. Photo by Vickie Moss

An Iola couple is having so much fun hosting a foreign exchange student this year, they decided to take on another.

Paul Porter and Hayley Derryberry welcomed Charlotte “Charlie” Peters of Germany last fall. Since then, Charlie’s been enjoying her junior year at Iola High School where she’s played tennis, attends school dances and is making new friends including Paul’s younger sister, Cara, a sophomore from LaHarpe. 

A few weeks ago, the entourage traveled to Orlando, Fla., to visit friends and enjoy Universal Studios.

That’s when Derryberry got a phone call. Two exchange students from Malaysia needed to find host families — and fast. Would they be willing to take one for the semester?

She immediately called Porter.

He said no. 

She tried again, and he relented: “Fine, but get the one who likes making videos.” (Porter owns Big Square Media, which produces photos and videos.)

That was “Maira,” whose full name is Nur Humairah Mohd Rais. She lives in Kuala Lumpur, and won first place at her school for an educational video about electrical safety.

She arrived about a week ago.

Wednesday’s winter storm brought an opportunity for Maira Mohd Rais, an exchange student from Malaysia, to experience snow for the first time. She and her host family went sledding at Riverside Park. From left, Cara Porter, Paul Porter, Maira and Hayley Derryberry. Photo by Vickie Moss
The aftermath of sledding down a hill at Riverside Park.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
Celebrating a successful adventure.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

On Wednesday, Maira saw snow for the first time.

“I only watched snow in the movies. I never thought I’d experience this.”

She woke up that morning, went outside and dropped to the ground to make a snow angel.

“It was cold,” she said. “Overwhelming. But I felt free, laying down and watching the sky. Peace. Calming.”

Later that day, she went sledding with Porter, Derryberry and Cara.

The four of them laughed as they took turns sledding, and even piled up on two sleds they attached with ropes to make a toboggan.

At left, German exchange student Charlotte “Charlie” Peters arrives in the U.S. in August. She is greeted by her host family, from left, Paul Porter, Charlie, Hayley Derryberry and Cara Porter.Courtesy photo


Neither of the girls knew much about Kansas before they came to Iola.

Charlie had wanted to be an exchange student since she was a little girl and watched movies about the U.S.

“I wanted to have that experience on my own,” she said.

She cared more about having a good host family than about where she lived. She arrived in the U.S. in August. 

Iola is quite a bit different from North Rhine-Westphalia, a western state in Germany with a population of more than 17 million.

She was surprised, though, to find out just how many activities happen in Iola.

“People here don’t think there’s a lot to do, but there’s so much going on all the time, little festivals,” she said. 

Hayley Derryberry, left, and Paul Porter take their exchange student, Charlie Peters, to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. Courtesy photo

Charlie does not eat meat, so that posed some challenges for the family, but they’ve adapted.

Sports are “very, very different” in the U.S., she said. German schools do not have organized sports teams.

The best experience was joining the tennis team, Charlie said. 

“It was very fun. It was a new sport for me and I met many people,” she said.

So far, the experience has helped her improve her communication skills. 

“I’ve learned to be more open in accepting and appreciating the differences,” she said. 

The family has been able to travel to a few places, including St. Louis for Cara’s dance competition, San Antonio for a friend’s wedding and Orlando. 

They’re not sure where else they might go, but Cara has more dance competitions in the region. They also want to plan a bigger trip after school gets out. The girls return to their homes in June. 

Malaysian exchange student Maira Mohd Rais arrives in the U.S. in late January: from left, Hayley Derryberry, Cara Porter and Maira. Courtesy photo


A teacher recommended Maira for a special program offered at schools in Malaysia.

She’s not just an exchange student. She’s a cultural ambassador.

Maira’s trip is provided by a scholarship. She has to do volunteer work, and share about her country and her religion, Islam.

While here, she hopes to improve her English “and get to show and share my culture.”

Maira wears a hijab and prays five times a day. 

Both her host family and IHS staff have been wonderful in accommodating her need to pray, she said. The school provided a designated place she can go.

“When I first came to school, everyone was so nice. ‘Are you going somewhere? Want me to walk with you?’ They hold the door open for me every time,” she said. “It’s so nice. The teachers are so nice.”

Maira Mohd Rais visits Starbucks with Hayley Derryberry. Courtesy photo

Before her trip, Maira looked up Iola on Google Earth. She knew there were a lot of states in the U.S., but she didn’t know anything about Kansas.

She viewed the school online.

“Oh, it looks like Hogwarts,” she said. Her parents teased her about going to Harry Potter’s school.

At home, she attends a much larger boarding school, where wild monkeys come in and steal their snacks “if you don’t close the windows.”

It’s true, she said. 

“When you leave and come back, you’re going to see your room has been messed up” by the monkeys, she said and laughed.

At IHS, Maira is a sophomore. When she returns to Malaysia, she’ll have another year and a half of school before attending a university.

Charlie has been a big help, Maira said. She advised Maira on what electives to pick, showed her to her classes on her first day of school, and even lent the girl a few sweaters. 

Malaysia is south of Thailand and Cambodia in southeast Asia.

Because of her Islamic faith, Maira’s diet includes certain restrictions. For example, she doesn’t eat pork. 

Whenever the family makes a meal, they show Maira the ingredients to make sure it’s something she can eat, too.

Between Charlie, the vegetarian, and Maira’s diet, mealtimes at the household have become a topic of conversation. Both Charlie and Maira have made meals, too.

Maira’s list of “first-time” food includes fish tacos, guacamole, spinach dip, buffalo wings and pancakes.

Oh, and bagels and rye bread. 

That’s ironic, since Derryberry is a professional bread baker. 

“She’s never had bread the way we make bread,” Derryberry said.

Maira celebrated her 16th birthday on Tuesday. Derryberry and Porter let her pick the type of cake she wanted: the bottom layer was strawberry, the second layer was funfetti, with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. 

It turned out to be a tasty combination, they all agreed.


November 7, 2022
August 29, 2022
April 20, 2022
November 22, 2011