Meredith Grasso needed a year off after graduating from Whittell High School in 2011 to think about her future career path, so she applied to the Tahoe Douglas Rotary Youth Exchange program. She wanted to go to Italy to learn more about her family’s culture, and after the interview process, she was selected to represent the basin in Milan.“Italy was my first choice because I’m Italian and I wanted to learn the language so I could talk to my grandmother. When I was on the plane I was terrified. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. But then I got there and settled in, and things went really well,” Grasso said. She spent a year in the county, taking classes at a language academy and living with two different host families. Grasso would practice her Italian skills with her second host father, a man who did not speak any English. Leaving that family was harder than saying goodbye to her real family in Tahoe, Grasso said, and she plans to visit her Italian hosts over Christmas this year. Guy Lease, the vice chairman of the Rotary Youth Exchange program in District 5190, which includes most of Nevada and the mountains of Northeastern California, hosted his first exchange student more than 30 years ago, but he still keeps in touch with one of the participants from the 1979 program. The student is now the mother of three children and practices dentistry in Denmark, and Lease has followed her path in life from 5,000 miles away. “It goes back a long way. You make lifetime friendships. We’ve visited students abroad multiple times,” Lease said. Lease restarted the Lake Tahoe high school student exchange program 18 years ago. He’d witnessed the success of Rotary International’s Youth Exchange in 1979, but the South Lake Tahoe Rotary Club hadn’t sent students abroad for 20 years. “It’s a wonderful opportunity, but our club wasn’t participating. We weren’t providing the option to study abroad to our high school kids. You feel guilty not giving students that opportunity,” Lease said.Since 1994, the South Lake Tahoe Rotary Club has sent, on average, one to two students abroad each year to multiple countries around the world and accepted about an equal number of international teens in their place, Lease said. It’s not easy booking so many complex travel arrangements — visas for students coming in the U.S. have become increasingly difficult to come by since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — and the club uses a small army of volunteers to make the program possible, Lease said. The rotary club across Stateline also offers a student exchange program. Tahoe Douglas Rotary Club New Generations Chairman Roy Stafford said the Nevada and the California clubs support each other when it comes to the youth exchange trips. On both sides of the border, students who are accepted into the program spend a year abroad where they attend high school in their host county and usually stay with several host families over the course of a year. The host family is an important part of the exchange that enables the teens to really immerse themselves in another culture, Stafford said. A Taiwanese student stayed with him earlier this year, and Stafford said it was a learning experience for both parties. “It’s a terrific experience and since it’s for several months you really get to know the student’s culture. For the student, he wanted to experience life outside Taiwan. And Tahoe being a much more rural environment was a big change for him,” Stafford said. A South Shore host family gives inbound students a taste of U.S. and Tahoe culture, Stafford said. For outbound students from the basin, the exchange program might be the first time they’ve been out of the country or even out of the state.“I find that a lot of them have grown up here and they don’t know a lot about the greater area. The idea is to get the students to see a new way of living, maybe learn a new language and a great deal about themselves. And they’re considered ambassadors of the U.S.,” Stafford said. Info Box:What: Tahoe Douglas Rotary Youth Exchange programWhen: Deadline to apply for outbound students is Nov. 2More info: firstname.lastname@example.orgIn other news: Poetry reading to be held at LTCCLexa Hillyer, winner of the Melissa Granitis Gregory Poetry Prize from Bona Fide Books, and Sacramento Poet Laureate Jeff Knorr will do a reading on Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Lake Tahoe Community College library. The evening will also feature a question-and-answer session and book signing. This event is free and open to the public. STHS offers SAT / ACT sessionThe South Tahoe High School AVID program and B&B TestPrep are hosting a one-day SAT / ACT cram session this Sunday at the high school. The class costs $75. For more information, contact Joan Buscher at 530-543-2255. Piano player needed for production The Tahoe Arts Project is looking for a piano player to accompany the Missoula Children’s Theater production of The Secret Garden on Nov. 13-17 at the South Tahoe Middle School. TAP will pay the pianist $100. For more information, contact Peggy Thompson at 530-542-3632 or email@example.com. Basketball leagues starting at KahleRegistration is open for youth basketball leagues at the Kahle Community Center. Elementary and middle school students grades three through eight can participate. The leagues run from November until March. For more information, contact Kahle Community Center at 775-586-7271. WHS accepting applications for craft fairDo you sew, paint, build, cook, sculpt, weave or practice any other creative hobby? The Whittell High School craft fair is accepting applications from vendors interested in showcasing their business or their hobbies at the Dec. 7-8 fair in the high school commons. For more information, contact Kim Felton at 775-588-3121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Calif. teachers unions rank sixth in the U.S. A new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based educational think tank, ranked Californian teacher unions as the country’s sixth strongest when it comes to raising money and influencing politics and educational policy. — Education updates and announcements can be emailed to email@example.com.
South Shore Rotary clubs teaching young ambassadors
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