"It was a fantastic experience!" was the general consensus of the eight students who participated in a cultural exchange to California and Nevada in the USA.
For two weeks, from February 24 to March 9, 2000, a group of Polish high-school students lived with American host families, provided by Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. They had the opportunity to experience the daily lives and culture of their families, as well as share their own Polish culture.
The exchange was organized by Peace Corps Volunteer Tearsa Coogan with the help and sponsorship of her family and friends, Faith Lutheran High school, Maria Konopnicka Liceum Ogólnokształcące-Jedlicze, Refinery Jedlicze, the Rio Hotel & Casino, The World of English, and various other donors.
The goals of this exchange were to:
l promote cultural awareness, diversity and tolerance;
l experience and share a realistic view of America and Poland;
l encourage English language development in a language-immersed environment.
Every day was filled with tours and activities. One evening in Las Vegas began with a dinner at the Rio Hotel & Casino World Buffet, where the students feasted on food from different parts of the world. They then watched a show celebrating the popular New Orleans Mardi Gras festival. Later they saw a staged volcanic explosion, and even met a group of pirates. The students also watched a light show which covered a whole block of the city.
One of the highlights of the trip was a day spent shaking hands with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, as well as riding roller coasters and various theme rides at Disneyland.
Another day was spent in San Diego, California, where the students were able to collect sea shells on the Pacific coast, see some seals on Seal Beach, and learn about other sea creatures at Birch Aquarium.
While hiking around Red Rock National Conservation Area, Trout Canyon and Death Valley, the students saw many interesting desert and mountain landscapes. They also visited Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada state border. Built in 1938, this dam is one of the great wonders of the United States due to its enormity and the technology used to build it.
While attending Faith Lutheran High School for two days, students took part in classes such as Math, English Literature, Biology, Geography, Student Aid, and History and made some new friends as well. They also had a small taste of university life while visiting the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the University of San Diego.
At a Christian school in Pahrump, Nevada, the group participated in a question and answer session with the American students about Poland and Polish culture.
Other activities included a campfire, a backyard barbecue, a ride on America's tallest roller coaster, a tour of a chocolate factory and a cactus garden and, last but certainly not least, shopping.
Concluding the exchange was a thank-you dinner at a Mexican restaurant. When asked about his impressions of the trip, Tomek Meksula said, "It was a great opportunity for me to know American culture and lifestyle." Agata Przetacznik said, "New experiences, new people, new things, quite a different world!"
Overall, the trip proved to be an excellent learning experience. Hopefully there will be opportunities for other such exchanges to be organized in the future.