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Irish exchange student enjoying the heat in El Dorado Hills

By: Art Garcia, Telegraph Correspondent
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EL DORADO HILLS, CA - Last week’s triple-digit heat was discomforting to many but for two El Dorado Hills visitors from Ireland it was welcome relief. To Susan O’Keeffe and her daughter, Grace Murray, 16, the hot summer days were a joy. “We get so much rain in Ireland we’re very happy to see blue skies,” said O’Keeffe, a first-term national Labour Party senator from Sligo, on the northwest Atlantic coast of Ireland. O’Keeffe returns to Ireland this week after a two-week visit with Elaine O’Connell and husband David Robb of El Dorado Hills. Grace is staying as an exchange student. She started her junior year at Oak Ridge High School last Thursday. Robb and O’Connell, a former university classmate in England and long-time friend of O’Keeffe’s, are hosting Grace until she completes the current semester and returns home in December or January. O’Connell teaches at Holy Trinity School in El Dorado Hills and Robb is a project manager with Sutter Health in Sacramento. They have a son, John, 12. “I’m really looking forward to going to school here,” Grace said. “It’s a lot different than in Ireland. The scheduling is very different. It should be interesting.” She doesn’t have a declared major but she has a heavy class load for her semester at ORHS. She’s taking chemistry, algebra, English, drama, U.S. History and Spanish classes during her semester here. Grace plans to continue on to college after graduating from high school but is unsure now what her study emphasis will be, although she’s “thinking mostly about something in art.” Grace met several Oak Ridge students and future classmates before the current semester began and she said she’s looking forward to meeting some of their friends. Her placement as an exchange student was made through the EF Foundation for Foreign Study, based in Cambridge, Mass., working with Cheryl Young, international exchange coordinator in Carmichael, Calif. “We hope to place 2,600 students from 25 countries this year,” said Young. Most choose one-year exchange programs; Grace signed up for a half year. EF has placed about 20 exchange students in the Sacramento area this year. Grace enjoyed a recent visit to San Francisco, especially Chinatown, and hopes to see Lake Tahoe while her mother is here and make a return trip to San Francisco. She and her mom have been to Old Sacramento and the state capitol. An EF group will travel to Pismo Beach, where Grace looks forward to surfing. Grace intends to stay in close telephone and email contact with her mom and father, Paul Murray, while in El Dorado Hills. O’Keeffe is a former journalist who worked as producer and director for Britain’s BBC in London. She’s traveled previously in the United States and visited O’Connell in El Dorado Hills five years ago. “Grace works hard and is a bright young woman,” O’Keeffe said, “and I want to give her a chance to not be quite so concentrated on academics but to concentrate on the world and the different ways people live their lives and the different ways in which you can be educated as well. “Children are growing up more rounded and have a better chance of understanding people and the world if they see more. This is a golden opportunity.” O’Keeffe said locals in El Dorado Hills “have made us feel very welcome, particularly at the school. They’ve been very warm and encouraging. They’ve gone out of their way to make Grace feel very welcome. I believe she’ll do very well here. She’s beginning to enjoy it already.”