For approximately ten months of the year Rotary Youth Exchange Students from around the world join our families here in the Pacific Northwest. They come as strangers and leave as friends. Many times the bonds that form between them and their temporary families last for years and years.
The photo (above) shows most of our exchange students from Rotary District 5020. They came to Tacoma for the district conference and took part in a project to help clean up one of our city's eastside parks.
On June 14th we gathered our exchange students from the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 to tell stories and say good-bye.
Begaiym Musabekova lives in Bishkek, the capital of the beautiful mountain country of Kyrgyzstan. She speaks great English, along with Russian and native Kyrgyz. She likes to play tennis, swim and dance. Her Mother is a doctor and Father a college professor.
The Kyrgyz Republic is one of the world's six independent Turkic states (along with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and People's Republic of China to the east. Its capital and largest city is Bishkek, the home of Begaiym. She is the first exchange student we've had from Kyrgyzstan.
Begaiym is tall and full of laughter.
Margaux DeCortis (left) is our exchange student from Belgium. She has two horses and enjoys entering competitions with them. She loves to read, play basketball and hang out with friends. Margaux lives in the town of Flemalle near Liege. The Fort de Flémalle is one of twelve forts built as part of the fortifications of Liège in the late 19th century in Belgium. It was built between 1881 and 1884. The fort was built exclusively of un-reinforced concrete, a new material, rather than masonry. The fort was heavily bombarded by German artillery in the Battle of Liège. Attacked in both World War I and World War II, the fort has been preserved as a museum.
Every time I see Margaux she is usually laughing. I don't know why she appears so serious here. Our first Rotary Exchange Student was from the Liege area also. A doll she presented to us still decorated the wall in our guest bedroom.
Nazho Silva is from Easter Island - Chile. He loves science, studying medicine, sports and theater.
Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle. Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 monumental statues, created by the early Rapanui people. It is a World Heritage Site with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park. Easter Island is claimed to be the most remote inhabited island in the world. We've had students in the past from Chile, but never Easter Island.
Nazho is very outgoing and quick with a smile . . . a mischievous smile perhaps. In his slide presentation to Rotary he had a photo of himself with one of the well-known statues.
Youth Exchange Chairman Chris Hays prepared tee-shirts as presents for each of the three exchange students. Their friends and family signed their names along with personal messages.
Presents are a large part of the exchange program. Our second exchange student gave us a beautiful crystal bowl from Finland as gift for opening our home to her. In exchange, we broke her heart and made her cry. Marketta missed her niece back home in Espoo, so I had a special photograph of her cut out and mounted on foam core to form a 3-D piece of art. Marketta retreated to her room until the tears stopped flowing.
She loved the present.
Becky Fontaine (left) and her husband, Gary have been involved with the exchange student program for years. Assisting her is Carrie Crabbe (right).
Becky is saddened because for the next three years she will be involved at the District level and that means she cannot be part of a host family. Actually, I think she will still be part of the host families, not just a host family.
I can't think of anyone else more qualified to lead the exchange student program in our Rotary District 5020, than Becky.
Also, moving up in the world of our Rotary District is Past President Pete Taylor. Pete will be the District Governor in two years.
One of the great aspects of the exchange student program is the long-lived connections they provide. Pete and his wife, Christine traveled to Finland several years ago and were given a tour of Helsinki by Marketta Vanamo, who is all grown with a master's degree in international trade and has started her own family with a baby born at the end of last year.
I'm willing to bet the new baby will be a Rotary Exchange student sometime in the future.
We actually have another person who could lead the district in the exchange student program and that would be Past President Mike Dunbar. Mike and his wife, Liz have hosted exchange students and like Pete have traveled the world to visit them.
Mike has been Rotary Youth Exchange Chairman before and has been involved in the program for years. At our BBQ Mike supplied the hamburgers and hot dogs and a cooker (which Gary Fontaine used to cook the dogs to a perfect char . . . just how I like them). Mike was the "burger" meister for the picnic.
Mike and Liz are one of those couples who just seem to enjoy almost everything.
Our exchange students come with a number of restrictions. Since we are being entrusted by their families to take good care of them, we have to be able to return them in the same general condition as when the first came to American.
Students can't really date and they can't drink. Although many students attend proms and such, falling in love should be out of the question. Even though many of the students come from areas where it is legal for them to drink, we like to protect them. Students also can't drive cars . . . and they can't get a tattoo.
At the picnic Begaiym was sporting a "temporary" tattoo . . . I hope. One thing our students return home with is more weight. The American life style agrees with many students and the usually put on about ten or fifteen pounds while they are here.
Past President Steve Smith joined Liz and Mike Dunbar at the picnic table. Steve is a single parent and currently running for a position on the city council in University Place.
In years past a single parent could not be a host family, but in today's world this has changed. Also, many people assume that because they have no children or no children at home they can't be a host family. This is not true. Part of being an exchange student is experiencing and understanding the differences in families and Americans in general.
Usually, an exchange student will stay with three families during their time in America. This gives them a chance to observe economical as well as cultural differences.