Roaring Fork Valley Rotary exchange students share cultural experience |

Roaring Fork Valley Rotary exchange students share cultural experience

John Stroud Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” It’s as much a lesson in personal independence as it is exposure to a new country, its language and a different culture.

That was one of the biggest eye-openers for a trio of Rotary Club exchange students who are visiting Glenwood Springs and Carbondale from other countries this school year.

“You really learn who your friends are when you’re far away from them … how much you need them, and your family, too,” said Christophe Michel, an exchange student at Glenwood Springs High School from France.

Roaring Fork High School exchange students Luciana Sales (Brazil), and Ingrid Kihlanki (Sweden), agreed.

“You learn a lot about being independent,” Sales said. “You need to do everything by yourself.”

“You do learn a lot … the language, how to travel over here; and coming to a new school is fun” said Kihlanki. “But it is hard to be away from my family.”

The students do have support from a rotation of local host families who take turns providing them with a place to live, meals, transportation to and from school and activities, and a few other basic necessities.

But for the most part, it’s up to the students to immerse themselves in a new culture and learn as much as they can during their nine months here.

Here’s a little more about this year’s visiting students ” where they are from, how they became involved with the Rotary exchange program, what they’ve enjoyed about their experience so far, and what they will take home.

Michel, 16, is from Reims, France, located about an hour and a half northeast of Paris. He was recommended by his English teacher.

The United States was his first choice, but he also listed Canada and Brazil as places he would have liked to visit.

Michel said one of the most exciting experiences was getting to witness Glenwood High’s state football championship last fall.

The whole high school experience is different than in France, where schools do not have sports teams other than intramural sports.

“The rivalry (between schools) here is really fun,” Michel said.

Michel played junior varsity basketball, and recently scored a basket in a game against Rifle. “That was a really huge thing,” he said.

“Students have more liberties in school here,” he added. “You can really be friends with the teachers, and they joke with the students. They don’t do that in France.”

For a town that’s just a fraction the size of Reims, population 150,000, he said he’s never at a loss for something to do in Glenwood Springs.

“I’m more bored there. You don’t need to go far to find something to do here,” Michel said.

Kihlanki, 17, comes from Luleå, Sweden, located on the Baltic Sea near the Arctic Circle. So, Colorado weather could be considered a step up from what she’s used to.

“I’m a skier, so I like the snow. But it’s warm and so light and sunny here,” she said.

She said she became interested in being an exchange student when her neighbor came to the United States, and the same family later hosted a student from abroad. Where she’s from, any family who sends a student abroad is in turn required to host a student.

“A lot of people here are interested to meet an exchange student,” she said. “I tell them about Sweden, and the food, and that it’s very cold.”

Her father, Goran, is an avid cross country skier, and this past weekend participated in the 90 kilometer Vasaloppet endurance ski race with about 15,000 other skiers.

Kihlanki said she found it harder to ski in Colorado at first, because of the altitude.

The U.S. was also her first choice, ahead of Australia and New Zealand, but she admits California’s ocean beaches sounded a little more attractive than the snowy mountains of Colorado.

“I’m happy I came here,” said Kihlanki, who is hoping to join a group of Rotary exchange students on a trip to California later this spring before heading home.

In the meantime, she is enjoying skiing here and will play tennis for Roaring Fork this spring.

“I think I will come away a stronger person when I go home, and will take a lot of memories with me,” she said.

Sales, also 17, is from São Paulo, located about 10 hours inland, and likes to inform people she talks to that Brazil is not just about beaches and volleyball. She did play volleyball for Roaring Fork last fall, though.

Her grandfather is a Rotarian and encouraged her to visit another country through the club’s exchange program.

“I really wanted to come here and learn a new language, and another culture,” said Sales, whose native tongue is Portuguese. “I knew a lot of English before I came here, but I know a lot more now.”

And, with the large Spanish-speaking population at Roaring Fork, she said she’s also able to brush up on her Spanish.

She doesn’t much care for the cold weather here compared to the year-round heat and humidity of Brazil. “But I love skiing,” she said.

In Brazil, Sales attends private school.

“I think I’ve learned to become more responsible,” she said.

Only one local student from the Glenwood/Carbondale clubs is currently visiting another country through Rotary exchange. Carmel Mulcahy, a student at Basalt High School, is in Sweden this school year.

However, four local students will be traveling abroad next school year. Roaring Fork High School students Elizabeth Robinson and Raleigh Burleigh will be visiting India and Chile, respectively.

The Glenwood club is sponsoring two GSHS students abroad next year as well. Christina Cappelli is set to go to Turkey, and Hayley Dixon will be going to Ecuador.

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