Last summer, Tamsen Peeples quickly learned that her fellow students at an all-girls school in Auckland, New Zealand, had misconceptions about Alaska.
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She had arrived three months into the school year for a year-long Rotary exchange.
"You get there, and you're the weird foreign kid," said Peeples, 17, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School. "When they figure out you're from Alaska, you don't live in an igloo and that you don't have a polar bear as a pet, they basically lose interest in you. That's when you have to start reaching out to people."
In the end, that's what made her year abroad pay off.
Peeples and fellow senior Tawney Letterman, just back from a year in Germany, were the guest speakers Tuesday night during a Rotary exchange informational meeting at Floyd Dryden Middle School.
Rotary is seeking interested students for its 2007-08 exchange, and will hold another informational meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. today in Room 206 of Juneau-Douglas High School.
Katherine Palmer, a 17-year-old JDHS senior who spent a year in Istanbul, Turkey, on a Rotary exchange, will be the guest speaker. All interested parents and youth are invited to attend.
Students must be a high school freshman or sophomore and not turn 18 before July 2007. The student, or the student's family, must pay for travel, insurance, emergencies and spending. The host Rotary club and family will pay for school and provide a place to stay.
Application forms are due at the high school counseling office, or to a Juneau rotarian, by 3 p.m. Monday. Rotary will begin interviewing students in October, and select students in November. Those students will be assigned their country in January 2007 and depart sometime between June and September.
"If you're looking at sending your son or daughter to a certain country, there are other programs that you can do that with," said Doug Eckland, Rotary youth exchange officer.
There is no minimum grade-point average requirement.
"Truly we're more interested in the student that can fulfill those ambassadorial functions," said Sally Saddler, another Rotary youth exchange officer.
Letterman, 18, stayed in a German town one hour from the Dutch border. She was apprehensive about her first day at school, and was initially shocked by the German students' penchant for staring. Her fellow students were fascinated with American "reality shows" such as "Next" and "Date My Mom."
"The Germans have sort of an icy personality when you meet them that you have to ice-pick through," she said. "The culture is that it's OK to stare at people, and we're taught from a very young age that it's rude to state. I went there and thought, 'These are the rudest people I have ever met.'
"I slowly started to realize they have no idea that in American culture that's not OK," she said. "I got there, and everyone was worrying about their homework and saying so-and-so did this. It was the exact same thing (as American school) but in a different language."
Peeples and Letterman both discovered that the students abroad had political issues with the United States.
"A little kid would say, 'What do you think about Bush?'" Letterman said. "And I would say, 'I love my country, but I don't always agree with every decision that our leader makes.'"
"For the first time, I can see America as a different country and not my own country," Peeples said. "I'm able to see how our decisions affect other countries."
For more information on Rotary exchange, call Doug Eckland at 723-4035 or visit www.rotary.org.
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