Bringing the world to the valley
“I know I’m too old to go trick or treating,” says Marta Zakrzewska, “but I’ve always wanted to do Halloween. It has been my favorite experience since I came to the United States.”
Zakrzewska arrived in the United States in August to attend 11th grade at Battle Mountain High School. She’s staying with Sharman and Jim Green at their Edwards home. Although she has spoken English for nine years, Zakrzewska says the language has been her biggest challenge.
“School here is easier than in Poland,” she says. “The algebra things we’re seeing at school now, I studied five years ago at home, when I was 12. In Poland, we need to know everything. Here, just the important things.”
In the Rotary Youth Exchange program, American and foreign high school students travel abroad to study, hosted by local Rotary clubs and families.
The program is designed for students 15 to 18 years old. There are two types of student exchange: the year-long exchange; and the summer exchange. Students on year-long exchanges usually have the opportunity to travel with other exchange students or their host families during vacations.
To be accepted, students go through an interview process. First, they have to pass an interview with local Rotary officials.
“We look at the student’s maturity. We’ll send them if we feel they can handle a year away,” says Larry Agneberg, a local real estate broker who
for six years has been a youth exchange officer for the Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club. “Also, we take into account if the student will be a good ambassador to the Vail Valley and the U.S.”
In the last six years, the Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club has sent students to study to Italy, Holland, the Philippines, Brazil, France, Finland, Canada and Australia. It has also hosted students from Venezuela, Japan, Ukraine, Sweden, Argentina, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, France and Italy, Agneberg says.
Montine Hansl is the local Rotary’s incoming student counselor for the student exchange program.
“This program interest me greatly because it’s an incredible opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures,” Hansl says. “There would be peace in the world if there would be more cultural and exchange programs.”
And the motto for the Rotary Youth Exchange program?: “World peace through understanding.”
“The biggest difference between Poland and the United States,” Zakrzewska says, “is that people are nicer here, they smile all the time. Polish people always think about problems.”
Zakrzewska says she chose the United States over Australia and Brasil, and she chose the Vail Valley over Ohio and New York.
“I love it here,” she says. “The only thing I miss are the discos at home. I wished there were more things to do here, I mean for teenagers. I’ve been to the movies a lot.”
A Rotary club that sponsors a student is generally also required to host a foreign student, so Zakrzewska’s mother in Olsztyn, a city of 200,000 people in Poland, is hosting a girl from Telluride.
“I’ve always wanted to go to another country to graduate,” Zakrzewska says.
Hosting Rotary clubs take care of any tuition. Zakrzewska also receives $100 a month as pocket money, and Sharman Green receives $200 to buy food.
The Greens have a son attending Battle Mountain High Schools, and Sharman Green says she’s always wanted to host an exchange student.
“Having Marta here has been great,” Sharman Green says. “I’m learning about Poland. I think Americans still see Poland as a communist country.”
In January, Zakrzewska will stay with another family. Exchange students usually stay three months with a family. Zakrzewska, however, will stay six months with two families.
“We wanted to have her until after the holidays,” Green says.
Recruiting families in the Vail Valley to host foreign students is one of Agneberg’s jobs.
“We’re always in need of local families to host inbound exchange students for three months at a time,” Agneberg says.
Shortly, the Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club we’ll be looking at students who want to do the summer program, which consists of one month away and one month here with the student from the other country.
Applications for that will be due by the end of the year, Agneberg says.
Meanwhile, before the end of the year, Zakrzewska says she will enjoy a special trip with Hansl.
“She’s taking me to Hawaii for two weeks,” Zakrzewska says, beaming.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.