Get a favorable exchange
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:59 PM
"Host families are needed for a dozen foreign students.When foreign exchange students come to Bainbridge Island to learn about environmental issues, they sometimes benefit from elements of island atmosphere that natives take for granted.Suzy Cook, who hosted an exchange student from Mexico last year through the Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI), said her student often spent time outdoors at her Eagledale farm, simply breathing.'He said, 'you don't understand,' Cook recalled, 'Mexico City is so crowded that we go away on the weekends just so we can breathe clean air.'Cook said the student's longing for such ecological fundamentals made an impression on her own kids, who would discuss with him the differences between Mexican and American environmental perspectives.Such interactions are the foundation of the Bainbridge CCI program, local representative Sally Metcalf said. Just the sheer fact of bringing people from another culture to our culture does amazing things, she said. It opens up our eyes...and it's really great for the kids because they get to encounter a completely different perspective.Host families are needed for the program, which for the fourth summer will bring about a dozen foreign students to the island for a month of environmental education activities.In the past, visiting students - who come primarily from Spanish-speaking countries - have toured island wetlands, the Vincent Road recycling center, the Bloedel Reserve, the estuary near Lynwood Center, and other areas of environmental interest in the Puget Sound region.The focus of each exchange program is a community service project, held last year on Cook's organic Ocean Sky Farm. There, students helped construct a water tank for irrigation and learned about sustainable farming techniques, said CCI regional director Mary Leverington.We wanted them to be working on community projects, she said, because we wanted to demonstrate that work in these communities is done by volunteers - they are not paid.The whole idea of doing these projects on a completely volunteer basis is a unique American project, she said.Many of the foreign students, who often come from privileged backgrounds, were not prepared to do manual labor, Leverington discovered in the early years of the program.In later years, we began advising that you would get dirty, she said, and you would probably break your fingernails.Leverington hopes visiting students - who range from high schoolers to college kids to adults - will import American notions of volunteerism into their own countries, and will also consider pursuing environmental careers after being exposed to the diversity of eco-jobs available in the northwest.As an important component of the program, the students will hear talks from local environmental experts. And Bainbridge is ideally suited to provide such resources, Leverington said.I think it is kind of a unique community in that regard, she said. I find a tremendous amount of people who are quite concerned about the environment and there is a real reverence for nature.But islanders could also learn a lot from the foreign students she added. Some Americans don't realize that conservation is a luxury in poorer countries she said. Nor do they understand that European Countries are often more environmentally-progressive than the U.S. in many ways.Hopefully, discussions on such issues will surface when the students come visit, Metcalf said, but for those immersed in a new culture, even simple interactions can serve a purpose.Just the experience of bumping up against a completely different way of living is very exciting, she said. And it ultimately makes everybody a lot friendlier towards each other.The CCI program runs from July 13 to Aug. 10. Families interested in hosting a student can contact Metcalf at 842-6719."