CANTON — Northern New York is a long way from Japan, Brazil and Sweden, but on Monday the three countries seemed a bit closer for members of the Canton Rotary Club.
Three women who participated in the Rotary’s youth exchange program gave Powerpoint presentations during the club’s weekly luncheon meeting at the Best Western.
“A key to the program is the host families,” said Brooke E. Rouse, a Rotary member who coordinates the youth exchange. “Obviously we can’t host people without host families, which means we can’t send people either.”
Amy Iwahashi, 18, of Osaka, Japan, is finishing her exchange year at Canton Central after staying with three Canton families. She will return home in July.
Since arriving in August, Miss Iwahashi said her English has improved immensely. She stayed with the Goldie, Sisk and Pfotenhaeur families.
“This was the first time I visited another country and leave my parents for a long time,” she said. “My host families were so wonderful to me. They take care of me like a real child.”
Attending college hockey games and trips to Canada were other highlights. In school she joined the track team and was excited that people were so curious about her country.
“I was so nervous about making friends, but I have many good friends now. I already knew about American high school life because I watched ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Glee’,” she said, drawing laughter.
Miss Iwahashi said her favorite class at Canton High School was tech theater and she wishes she could stay longer to take other classes. Other new experiences included carving a jack-o-lantern, apple picking, cutting down a Christmas tree and celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Emma Crowell, 19, daughter of David and Robin Crowell, is a 2018 graduate of Canton Central who recently returned from spending a year attending school in Brazil. In August, she starts her freshman year at American University in Washington, D.C., where she plans to study international relations.
“One of the most amazing parts of my exchange was the Amazon trip I got to go on. We spent a week on boats traveling up the Amazon River and we would sleep on hammocks on the upper deck,” Miss Crowell said. “I never slept on a hammock before this trip so that was a really great experience. At night the river really comes alive with the sounds of frogs and birds so that was incredible to hear.”
Like the United States, Brazil is divided into states and Miss Crowell was in the northeastern part of the country, where she stayed with three different families. Portuguese is the country’s native language.
“It was always warm and always sunny, perfect beach weather and the beach is gorgeous,” she said. “Their house was only about a 15-minute walk from the gorgeous beach so a lot of times after school I would just walk down.”
She displayed photos of a sea turtle rescue project in her city.
Miss Crowell said her Brazilian high school was very different from her U.S. experience. Classes went from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day with two 30-minute breaks.
Students generally stay in one classroom with teachers rotating to different rooms. As a second language, Brazilian students choose between English or Spanish.
“Everyone was so incredibly friendly to me. The Brazilian culture is super warm and welcoming,” Miss Crowell said.
In regards to food, Miss Crowell said fresh fruit was plentiful, such as pineapples, mangoes and papayas.
“Cashews are a huge thing. They grow on trees and you can go and pick them,” Miss Crowell said.
Typical cuisine includes beans, rice and meat which is usually barbecued. At the beach, vendors often sell toasted cheese on sticks, ice cream, cashews and peanuts and fresh coconut water.
She had a chance to see different animal species including a sloth with a baby, alligators, birds, an anaconda and pink river dolphins
Another highlight was making friends with other exchange students from throughout the U.S. and from other countries, she said.
Gabriella Eklund Fallman, 47, of Stockholm, Sweden, returned to Canton, where she spent the 1989-90 school year. She was joined by her husband and their trip was planned to coincide with a 50th wedding anniversary celebration held for her host parents, Michael and Cathy Crowe.
She remembers singing “Phantom of the Opera” songs as a member of Canton High’s select choir. She attended the prom and graduated with the Canton senior class.
“This exchange program was a fantastic experience for me,” Ms. Fallman said.
Soon, the couple’s daughter will travel to California where she will spend the school year as an exchange student.