Belarus Summer Leadership students experience Kalona life

By: Susan Pettrone

Belarus Summer Leadership Exchange students and Kalona host, Sherrie Nisly, took time out of their busy schedule to pose for a picture.

Kalona has been hosting 14 students here on a U.S. scholarship with a focus on 'service in leadership', through the Belarus Summer Leadership Exchange July 3 - July 25, 2009.

While in Kalona, these students have enjoyed a Kalona Heritage Tour, experienced a trip to the Mall of America, and have also been busy helping clean and organize the Restore for Habitat for Humanity.

Families hosting the Belarus students include: Art & Fern Bachmann, Scott & Kim Barthelman, Lee & Connie Ebersole, Henry & Amanda Feuk, Paul & Donna Ford, Lynn & Deb Hochstetler, Garry & Dort Kueneman, Matt & Melanie Miller, Phil & Sherrie Nisly, Boone & Lani Novy, Dave & Grace Schumann, Iva Showalter, Stanley & Shirley Stutzman, and Tony & Kathleen Wild.

The Belarus Summer Leadership Exchange offers selected students from the former Soviet Republic of Belarus to enjoy and experience the USA each summer through a program funded by Congress and administered by the Youth Division of the U.S. Department of State. The organizations, American Councils and World Link team up to provide a short-term summer experience program for the Belarus students as an alternative to longer term academic programs which are not allowed by the current Belarusian government at this time.

Belarus, a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, is bordered by Russia to the north and east, Ukraine to the south, Lithuania and Latvia to the north, and Poland to the west. Its capital is Minsk; the official languages- Belarusian and Russian and the official currency is the Belarusian ruble. At the present time one U.S. dollar = Br 2858

Students, ages 15-17, were selected by the Belarus embassy and American Councils. They arrived in the USA and were taken to host sites and supervised by World Link. Students live and interact with host families, thus experiencing American life in a typical home setting. Activities include a combination of family activities and group activities organized by local coordinator, Sherrie Nisly.

Experiencing life in America, in the case of these 14 students, life in rural Iowa, the students take back home with them an appreciation and understanding of America that cannot be gleaned from any textbook. Focusing on introducing the students to roles youth play in terms of leadership by helping disadvantaged populations within their community's, they also gain a better understanding of the importance community service plays within a community. By experiencing different aspects of life in America, these 14 students will see firsthand how volunteers make up an important part of the U.S. and how their work is vital in keeping our country going.

Also included will be a look at American schools where they will learn how activities of schools provide much in the way of community service and responsibility for our teen, thus building a firm foundation for the future men and women they will grow to be. As schooling is far different in Belarus, these young men and women will be able to compare and contrast both education systems, taking back with them a better understanding of the importance America, and Iowa in particular takes in its educational system.

Taking pictures of the group, the students attempted to teach me the translation of "cheese" from English into Russian, something I'll be tucking away for future use. Laughing as I tried to mimic the students, it was easy to see, I wouldn't be visiting Belarus and speaking fluently anytime in the near future.

Though it was a relatively cool day with a temperature of 82 degrees, I discovered that not counting our 100 degree days, our July weather is much like theirs as the average temperature in Belarus in July is 64 degrees with 80-90% humidity, while in Iowa our average July temperature is between 82-84 degrees with high humidity. Kalona must feel an awful lot like home to these students after all.

Chatting with some of the students, I happened upon two young women, Margaret Leonuyk and Katya Goul who were eager to share their experiences. Margaret, age 15, is being hosted by Stanley and Shirley Stutzman of Frytown was pleased with her experiences in Kalona. Stating, "I love the area. My hosts are very nice people and where they live is beautiful." Smiling as we chatted about her experiences, Margaret stated, "I love this place, especially the people. They are so kind and open. In our country people are not so kind, but they are here and I love it!" Living in Brest, a city near Minsk with a population of 312,950, Margaret also expressed her love of the small town of Kalona and as she stated, "the way it feels so friendly."

Katya, age 15, hosted by the Nisly family of Kalona, was enthusiastic about her family laughing as she exclaimed, "Sherrie is my host family! She is crazy and fun! I have had a lot of fun. I can only say one word about my time here....WOW!" A statement that shows without a doubt, Katya is enjoying her experiences in Kalona immensely. Stating "I like the nature here, it is much like the nature in my home country." Living in Minsk the capital of Belarus, with a population of 1,830,000 it is quite a change for Katya to come to Kalona with a population of 2500, where people are as she said so well, "people are so friendly here. It is nice to meet the people of Kalona."

In appreciation for their time in Kalona, there will be a presentation from the students for the community on Friday evening July 24 at the United Christian Baptist Church at 7:30. The public is invited to meet this extraordinary group of young people and see for themselves what makes them so special.



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