Rotary exchange students experience life in Ski Town USA
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Until they open their mouths to speak, you wouldn’t know Tim M. and Janis F. are foreigners on a student exchange year. After all, the youth look like they fit in perfectly as they make their way down Lincoln Avenue on a school night.
The two Steamboat Springs High School juniors dove into American life with gusto when they arrived last fall — one from Germany, the other from Switzerland.
However, their image of Americana was dashed upon arriving at the high school itself.
“The high school here isn’t anything like the movies,” grinned Janis.
“Yea, the football. It kind of was really bad here,” agreed Tim.
After onlookers finished laughing, Tim and Janis explained that Steamboat teens’ lack of enthusiasm for high school football probably allowed them to make the team and actually play. They had the best time confusing wide receivers on the other team as they played safety and cornerback.
“We’d speak in German so they wouldn’t know where we were going,” said Tim.
The two teenagers are part of a student exchange sponsored by Rotary Club International and U.S. State Department. They are hosted here by members of the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs. The teens said they chose what country they wanted to come to but didn’t know the city until the Rotary Club informed them.
Ski Town USA was a boon for the two teens who ski and snowboard back in Europe.
“Skiing in this town is so much easier,” said Janis.
“Back home we’d have to drive 30 minutes to the nearest ski area,” said Tim. “Here, you just hop on a bus to the ski area.”
While in Steamboat, foreign exchange students live with three different families throughout the year to give them a taste of real family life. A family can be anyone from a couple with children to families with no children or even single people. They just have to be willing to take in a student for three months and pass a background check. The students even get an allowance from Rotary.
Local Rotary members like Ray Martinez also keep an eye on the foreign students, inviting them to family dinners or trips. On a Wednesday night, Martinez kept the boys company while they visited local businesses to raise money for their end-of-year trip. He explained foreign exchange students become goodwill ambassadors for America.
“They’re great kids. I’ve been working with them (exchange students) since 2010,” said Martinez. “We want the students to go home and spread the word: ‘I had the best time in the U.S.’”
When asked the best thing about Steamboat Springs, both the boys said in unison, “burgers.”
“Burgers are way better here, but other things like fruit and vegetables don’t taste as good here,” said Janis.
Another big difference the two teenagers commented on is the friendliness of Americans.
“I can be standing around looking confused and someone will come up to me ‘What are you looking for?’” said Tim.
“People are more direct here than in Europe too,” said Janis.
He says in Switzerland, everyone greets older people politely on the street, but they usually don’t respond.
“Everybody here responds.”
Janis and Tim could not say enough good things about the Rotary Club’s exchange program and hope to eventually become members themselves in their home countries.
“We can’t say thank you enough,” said Tim as Janis added that they were lucky to get into a club as “friendly and great as Steamboat Rotary.”
“Rotary in Germany is serious, and everyone shows up in tuxes or suits,” Tim said. “Here it’s about community, and everyone is laughing and having a good time.”
As the two boys wrap up their exchange trip, they’re collecting donations for their end-of-year fundraiser so they can go on an epic trip across the West with other foreign exchange students. Apparently community fundraisers are rare in Europe and going into a local store to ask for a donation isn’t really done said the two boys.
But here, they’re willing to follow friendly American norms.
“This is for us, and anything extra we raise will go to future exchange students,” said Janis.
The European Pasta & Trivia Night fundraiser and silent auction will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. May 31 at Dude & Dan’s, 1106 Lincoln Ave.
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Freshman Xavier Knott loves going to school at Steamboat Springs High School.