Trading spaces:Teens learn of other cultures

Sunday, July 20, 2003

The two teenage girls have a lot in common. They come from similar family situations. Their parents even worked in the same occupations. Both girls have three siblings -- two brothers and one sister. Both had a strong interest in learning about other cultures, and both of their families worked hard to find the opportunity to learn of life in a foreign land. Now Laura Lovinger and Marime Camuset have one more thing in common. They're spending the summer together as part of Rotary International's youth exchange program. For nearly four weeks, Marime Camuset has been immersed in American culture, learning about the U.S. by living in the Lovinger's Nevada home. She'll return to her homeland July 22, and Laura Lovinger will go with her, staying with the Camuset family for four weeks as well. Organizing the exchange was a long process, especially since the groundwork was prepared while the U.S. war against Iraq was unfolding. International tensions narrowed choices for the girls. Lovinger said she looked into going to Switzerland, but there was concern about the social tensions she might encounter. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Camuset learned that going to Toronto, Canada, wasn't recommended because of concern about SARS. Nevertheless, volunteers from Rotary Clubs in both countries studied the girls' applications and information provided, and sought out appropriate families for the exchange, as is typical in the program. "It worked out really well," Lovinger said. Camuset's stay with the Lovingers has been filled with new experiences, and she admits there are many aspects of American life that came as a surprise. In France, she said, meals are much more formal, with the primary focus on the midday meal. Fast food restaurants are rare, and the usual French fare seems to be more healthy. "The food -- I never ate so many hamburgers and so much ice cream," she said. Other differences caught her attention as well. Supermarkets, for example, are rare -- smaller, individually owned shops for meat, produce, bread and so on are the norm in her homeland. France has no rodeos -- in particular, no mutton busting -- and no youth fairs filled with exhibits of wares and livestock shows. To give her a broader picture of life in the U.S., the Lovingers went to Boston and drove long distances to tour New England. "I was surprised by the big city, the skyscrapers in Boston. There are no skyscrapers in France. They were so big, and very nice," Camuset A trip to Branson was a surprise as well, with a visit to Dixie Stampede. "We don't have shows like this," Camuset said. France does not boast troops of bluegrass musicians, either, which she saw for the first time during a visit to Silver Dollar City. Severe thunderstorms are rare in most regions of France, as well, and tornados are almost unheard of. "We taught her to throw a baseball," Lovinger said, and Camuset experienced her first baseball game as well. Some things, though were familiar. Fashions are similar, and she recognized many names of American pop singers who are also popular in France, like Avril, Madonna and Michael Jackson. She came to the U.S. because she "wanted to know more about a foreign country's customs, the customs of a U.S. family, and to learn more English," she said. She did that, but she also made friends and enjoyed experiences she will remember for a long time to come. When Lovinger stays with Camuset's family, Camuset hopes to share some of France's rich history with Lovinger. The pair already plans to spend time in three regions of France -- in the Alps, in Brittany and, of course, Lovinger hopes, in Paris. "It's really a great program, and it's been a lot of fun," Lovinger said. Camuset agreed. "I've met so many nice people. Everyone I met has been very nice to me." Rotary exchanges can involve students from any one of 163 countries, for a long-term exchange which lasts an academic school year, or for a short-term exchange, which is the program in which Lovinger and Camuset are participating. Host families and students are carefully screened, and when both students and families are selected, host families provide room and board, provide parental supervision and are encouraged to include the exchange student in household chores and normal family activities. Host families do not have to be members of the Rotary Club; however, Rotarians take care of the logistics involved and students are to attend Rotary functions, with the support of the host family and Rotarians. To host a Rotary Youth Exchange student, contact the local Rotary Club.

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