Foreign students get a taste of North Carolina

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Sunday brought one of my most anticipated annual events. And, no, I’m not talking about the start of the NFL season.

The Roxboro Rotary Club – and its 46 companion clubs spread throughout the Triangle – hosts foreign exchange students each year. One of the first activities Rotary does with the group is a scavenger hunt in downtown Raleigh.

Those of us of a certain age remember when downtown Raleigh was no place you wanted to go. Street crimes were a common occurrence and there was a definite sense of danger if you ventured into downtown Raleigh.

But with the region’s growth, downtown Raleigh has seen a resurgence of its own, much like the one taking place now in downtown Durham.

Our students – from Brazil, Chile, Germany, Taiwan and Paraguay – know little or nothing about the renaissance that has taken place in downtown Raleigh over the last 3 years . And they don’t know anything about the history of North Carolina.

I can’t think of a more appropriate place to learn about North Carolina history than downtown Raleigh. Our scavenger hunt took us to the Museum of History, and through the historic Oakwood and we stopped by the Governor’s mansion to get a peek at how the other half lives.

My daughter measured our steps Sunday afternoon and determined that we walked just over four miles trying to find the items on our scavenger hunt list. We saw the statue of the three presidents who were from North Carolina and we learned about how NASCAR got its start thanks to some moonshiners looking for fun after they no longer needed to get away from revenuers after Prohibition ended.

For these students, the entire year will be filled with new experiences, new sights and sounds, a new language and new friends. Rotarians who work with them throughout the year will marvel at the way they adjust to their new surroundings and how they become Americanized in a relatively short period of time.

That’s an important aspect of the program because Rotarians believe the best way to break through stereotypes and bias is to experience that odd new culture for a while.

Over the years, Triangle Rotarians have hosted students from far away places such as Iceland and Japan and Belgium to Argentina.

Last year, the local Rotary club hosted students from Brazil and France. This year, local Rotarians will get a taste of German culture thanks to the exchange student spending the year here.

Diplomacy works best on a personal level. It’s hard for anyone to comprehend some of the larger issues of the day and have a clear view of how to change minds and find a middle ground that everyone is comfortable with. But as these young people grow into adults and enter the working world, they will most certainly have a more compassionate outlook on how nations should treat each other.

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