Opinion | Foreign exchange is growing, opening eyes
March 20, 2012 · Updated 2:35 PM
Looking up at snow-dusted Mount Si this week, I wonder how Renato Cocchella and Valeria Gamonal are doing in the bright South American sunshine.
Earlier this month, the two Peruvian exchange students arrived back in their hometown of Chaclacayo after a February visit to learn Snoqualmie Valley ways.
So, as the snow falls in the Valley, these teens are transitioning to late summer in the southern hemisphere. It’s 80 degrees this week in Chaclacayo. Sounds pretty rough.
Trekking between continents requires a major adjustment to climate, daily life, school work and surroundings. Host parent Barbara Scott, who took in Valeria during the winter visit, describes her guest as a “very adaptable kid.”
The teen was brave enough to explore—she tried every new food the Scotts served her—but also marched to her own rhythm. For example, while exploring rainy Seattle, she insisted on carrying an umbrella. Bumbershoots are uncommon apparel around here, so the Scotts had to track one down.
Handed a Mount Si sweatshirt on her second day in the Valley, Valeria didn’t know what to make of the animal on the front. That was when she learned about high school mascots.
Scott told me she highly recommends the experience. Through everyday interactions, from eating dinner to nights out at the theater, the Scott family learned from Valeria and the exchange student learned from them. Hosts and visitor alike grew during the visit, which opened the family’s eyes to a new world.
Adventures and growth like this wouldn’t happen without the city of Snoqualmie’s brave steps to forge bonds with cities in other far-off nations. To date, Snoqualmie is the only Valley community with a sister city (Gangjin, Korea) and a Friendship City (Chaclacayo).
We all know local cities have far more serious concerns—budget cuts, infrastructure needs, school impact fees—but there’s more to life than pipes, paychecks and taxes. Culture adds meaning to civic life, too. Right now, Snoqualmie has a big lead; I’d like to see North Bend, Carnation and Fall City forge some international links next.
Tina McCollum, secretary to the Snoqualmie Sister Cities Association, was overwhelmed by the initial response of local families wanting to host the Peruvians. That shows there’s genuine interest in the Valley for these experiences. And there’s more to come. In the offing for 2012 is an opportunity for Mount Si students to visit Peru, staying with Chaclacayo families and touring destinations like the regional capital, Cusco, the once-lost city of Machu Picchu, and the local jungles. The latest Korean trip shortly follows, and in the meantime, the Snoqualmie committee continues to build its roster of local host families.
These new relationships aren’t just limited to youth. High school students, and through them, their families, and the Valley’s organizations and businesses, can benefit. The Valley is made stronger and wiser through these intercontinental connections.
• If your family would like to host a visitor, send a letter of interest to the Sister Cities Committee on why you’d like to take part. Include whether you have any children attending school at Mount Si, any foreign languages spoken in your home, and what country most interests you, Peru or Korea. You can get started by visiting snoqualmiesistercities.org.