Cultural exchange students
bring a bit of their country to the Mission Valley
students pose next to the St. Ignatius school during sunset last
Thursday. (Back row L to R): Arlee student, Bulat Kagirov (Russia), St.
Ignatius student, Pakin LaBaisa-ard (Thailand), Arlee student Ryan
Bugrahan Unver (Turkey), and St. Ignatius student Atalay Sahin
(Turkey). (Front row): Charlo student Muhamad Najmudin Fadziil
(Malaysia), St. Ignatius student Sara Salleh Dayang Siti Nursara
(Malaysia) and Arlee student Roxana Oksana Bedikhina (Russia). (Lailani
PABLO — Students from two foreign exchange
programs on the Flathead Reservation will represent their cultures with
talent and demonstrations to include a lively cultural exchange from
the CSKT tribal community this coming week.
The Youth Exchange and Study program (YES) funded
by the U.S. Department of State was formed during the post-9/11
realization that public awareness of world culture was extremely low,
especially nations with significant Muslim populations, according to
local coordinator Marilyn Murchie.
YES is a collaborative effort between foreign
exchange organizations both within the U.S. and throughout the Middle
East and Asia. The students are from countries of Brunel, Egypt, Ghana,
Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mozambique, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia,
Thailand and Turkey.
“The students who participate in the YES program
are selected in an open, merit-based competition conducted in the
countries where the students live. The students go through a
three-tiered process that includes a written application, in-person
interviews, and final screening by a national selection committee. The
students who are accepted are provided a full scholarship to study in
the U.S. and serve as ambassadors for their country,” Murchie explains.
Currently there are five YES students attending
schools in at Arlee, St. Ignatius and Charlo.
In a recent interview students shared their
immediate experience in America. The students admitted it does not
compare to the portrayal they have seen in movies; where everyone seems
to have everything. The accurate “setting” in America? It is down to
earth “real people” the students agreed.
The other program is the Future Leaders Exchange
(FLEX), a scholarship program that was created in 1992 by former
Senator Bill Bradley’s belief that the best way for a long-lasting
peace and understanding between the U.S. and Eurasia was to help young
people to learn democracy through firsthand experience.
“While in America the YES and FLEX students are
required to give presentations of their countries and do volunteer
service in the communities here, and learn about our cultures. When
they return to their countries, they join an alumni and participate in
sharing their newly acquired experiences and knowledge to benefit their
home communities and countries,” Murchie said.
FLEX is administered by the U.S. Department of
State through funding from the Freedom Support Act.
The program gives opportunities to high school
students from Eurasia (former Soviet Union, including: Russia, Ukraine,
Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Krygyzstan) to spend a year in the United
States. The select students live with families and attend high school.
Teens, regardless of country or culture, express
intense energy and have the innate desire to make friends, be accepted
and carry a pride of who they are and where they come from.
Overall, teens desire to be understood.
In a recent interview, the group shared a few
differences within their short-lived experience in America and in
comparison to their countries. For example, in Malaysia people are more
apt to beat around the bush while in America, “people are straight
forward,” according to Muhamad Najmudin Fadziil of Malaysia.
Another comment brought up by Atalay Sahin, a
Turkey student at St. Ignatius said most people misunderstand his
culture, “Some people think were still riding on camels and all wear
turbines,” he expressed with a smile. The truth? No camels, no
turbines, according to Sahin.
While sports in America is ranked at the top in
high schools, in Turkey (Turkish) academics is taken to the top rank.
“Sports is not as important, especially as a senior, it would not be
easy to be successful and play sports,” Sahin said.
However, when St. Ignatius student Pakin
LaBaisa-ard from Thailand, first arrived and heard the word “football”
he was ready to see some fast kick and highball head passes. Instead,
his first impression was “what is this 250 pound guy charging after
this other little guy for? Then “boom!” “I didn’t know what to think,”
LaBaisa-ard said with eyebrows raised and an amusing smile.
Sahin said the university system in Turkey has a
measure of difference in discipline matters. The students in Turkey are
required to wear uniforms and have their hair cut to a certain length.
Although there are several academic differences
from country to country, many exchange students have expressed their
thoughts with the new system they are currently experiencing. Arlee
student who is from Russia, Roxana Bredikhina, states the experience
she has enjoyed thus far, is the “freedom” within the school system
here in the U.S., and while another student believes there is too much
“freedom” in the school system.
Approximately 50,000 applications are submitted
for the FLEX program and around 1,500 students are chosen, according to
host parent Bill Bjarko. The students picked, “Are the cream of the
crop,” said Bjarko. Bjarko’s hosts a son, Arman Aytassov from
Kazakhstan. Aytassov attends Ronan High School.
Currently, there are eight FLEX students attending
school at Arlee, St. Ignatius, Ronan and Polson.
The upcoming kick-off of performances by the
students will begin on Saturday, March 13 with a free talent show at 7
pm in the Ronan Event Center at the Ronan Middle School.
Students will perform songs, dances from their
countries along with skits and other performances to share their
traditions and cultures with the Mission Valley community.
Sunday will be reserved for visits with students
and host families.
Monday afternoon will be set aside for students to
acquaint with tribal students during a Cultural Exchange Day beginning
at the People’s Center with a guided tour of the museum starting at 3
At 4 pm Two Eagle River School students will
demonstrate Native games at the People’s Center with an invite to
challenge exchange students to a few games before dinner at Two Eagle.
Open and free to the public, will be the cultural
exchange beginning at 5:45 pm at Two Eagle River School. TERS drum
group will sing an honor song. Cultural performances will follow by YES
and FLEX students. The performances are set at eight minutes per
Between 6 pm – 7:30 pm will be an intermix
dance-off between tribal students and exchange students.
The Cultural Exchange night will end with a round
dance for all to participate.
“I believe our purpose is to show our culture and
our traditions to people – and to represent,” said YES student Ryan
Bugrahan Unver from Turkey.
For more information, please call Marilyn Murchie
at (406) 544-4571.