We Are All in the Same Boat!
It was a windy, rainy weekend, but 10 AFS exchange students studying in the US with YES & FLEX - both US Department of State high school age scholarship programs- experienced a memorable Canoe Journey on the waters of Puget Sound, Washington state. “STROKE! STROKE!” Paddling an 18-man Northwest Indian style canoe takes teamwork, and by the time the overnight camping trip was over, the students had learned that by working together and cooperating they could really accomplish things. There was a strong headwind, and the trip to Blake Island took 4 hours. None of the students had ever paddled a boat before, but by the time we arrived at the Island they could do it! Basak (Turkey) & Ana (Georgia) both expressed that if people work together, they can overcome difficulties as teachers and leaders emerge. After setting up camp- a new experience for most- the group walked a mile to the traditional Native American style longhouse, stopping to take a special nature trail that identified native plants and explained how our Northwest Native Americans used them for food, shelter & clothing. We enjoyed a traditionally open-flame cooked salmon dinner, including clams! None of the students had ever eaten or even seen clams, but they all tried them and most of the kids liked them. After dinner, we watched a very creative & interesting show put on by the Tribe. The students learned about the legends and beliefs systems of Native Americans, and were very impressed by how much they revered nature & all the animals. Ameet (Pakistan), Nabila (Indonesia) and Shabab (Bangladesh) look forward to sharing their insights into this Native American culture when they return to their countries. Environmental awareness & preservation is not common in most of these countries, and several of the students were very excited about the idea of starting a small conservation project in their own country. While enjoying s’mores around the campfire that evening, the kids talked about their different home countries, and the surprising aspects of American culture they have already encountered. They all valued finding out about each other’s cultures & traditions; Karina (Russia) says “I hope getting to know other cultures & lifestyle will help me change something in my own country for the best.” And the return trip to Bainbridge Island? That took less than 2 hours! The students had become a team, and viewed the water & sea life with new eyes after learning some of the Native American legends. Wet & tired, there were smiles on every face as we docked. (Linda Sohlberg, AFS Sponsored Programs volunteer)