PUBLISHED: 4:08 PM on Wednesday, October 10, 2007
A cultural exchange
I have to admit I was a bit worried about my parents when my brother moved out in August to attend college. But before I knew it, three new people were regular topics on conversation with my folks. It's not usual for me to call home and hear about Ami, Yuki and Yang - three students attending the local community college. I met Yang first. She moved to Liberal, Kan. early in the year from China to play volleyball at Seward County Community College. Speaking no English, when she arrived, she picked up the language fast and I was able to converse with her during a quick trip in May. Since then Ami and Yuki have entered the picture. Ami also moved from China to play volleyball at SCCC. Yuki has been in the states longer and plays tennis at SCCC. He grew up in Brazil although he's Japanese.

Not only are my parents learning about their cultures, such as when Ami and Yang make a meal for them or share their good luck charms, but these three are learning much from their time in Kansas.

Courtesy photo
  From left: Ami, Yuki and Yang relaxing for the day.
My dad said he enjoys spending time with them "because they're good kids and a lot of fun to be around." So when I recently went to see my parents for a visit, it wasn't a big surprise to me it was already planned that Wednesday was volleyball night. We watched Yang's killer serve and though Ami is new to the team she was able to play. You could see the nervousness and excitement on her face. Yuki sat with my dad and cracked jokes while mom kept pointing out the young women to me so I wouldn't miss anything.

After the game, I talked to my mom with my back to the court, and I suddenly felt someone's arms wrapped around me. "It's big sister! My big sister came to my game!" Yang said as she hugged me. "I'm so glad you came to my game," she said with a smile.

I couldn't help but feel her warmth and friendliness, and was so happy that I was there. We all then went out for ice cream. The students wanted to know about Alaska - how cold, how far away, what animals lived there. They asked me what certain words meant and, in my own silly fashion, I acted them out so they would know how they were used in everyday life. It didn't matter that they were from another country - we were experiencing other cultures right there in my parents' Suburban.

I can't imagine how different living on the rural prairie of the High Plains is from living in urban China or Brazil. It's just not something I can grasp, yet these wonderful students have made the most of it and are finding the feeling of home in new friends.

These students came to the country to pursue athletic scholarships, but I have a feeling they will take away more from their experiences than knowledge from classes. My family once hosted a student from New Zealand for nine months, and it was a positive experience that will forever impact everyone involved.

Students from Juneau get this experience each year as part of the Rotary Club of Juneau Glacier Valley's youth exchange program. Every year a student from the Juneau area is chosen to attend school in another country. Other exchange opportunities are available as well. So take a moment to get to know those visiting. You might find that you have more in common than you thought at first.

Amanda Gragert is editorof Capital City Weekly.You can contact her by e-mail at