Part of the foreign exchange student experience is just that – experiencing as many different aspects of life in the host country as possible. For Cheney High School exchange students Taisiya Feoktistova and Rebecca Reinecke, that experience involved getting a little dirty.
The duo were part of a group of eight area exchange students who planted trees April 27 at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Sponsored and funded by foreign exchange organization CCI/Green Heart, the trip enabled students to spend three hours that Friday learning about habitat restoration.
Feoktistova said they learned about the refuge, its history and mission, and got hands-on experience by planting 20 trees of different varieties out on the refuge. It’s not all about digging holes either as Feoktistova said they had to also construction fences for the individual trees to keep out small animals that might feast on the new vegetation, which is planted inside larger fenced pens to keep out bigger eaters.
“We had a lot of fun,” she said, with Reinecke adding the day allowed them to visit with other exchange students and share their experiences living in the U.S.
Feoktistova, from the industrial city of Zaporizhzhya in southern Ukraine, is here through the Future Leaders Exchange program while Reinecke is with ISE International. Besides their class work at Cheney High and Turnbull, both girls have visited other areas of the Pacific Northwest with their host families or other exchange student groups.
Feoktistova said she has visited Seattle as well as Glacier National Park, getting an overview of the mountainous region in northwest Montana on a helicopter ride her host family rented. Reinecke, from a town 20 minutes outside Frankfurt, Germany, said she’s also been to Seattle as well as Portland, Ore., Hawaii and places in Montana such as Billings.
Both girls are near the end of their stay, with Feoktistova leaving May 15 and Reinecke June 19. They both have mixed feelings about their return home.
“We’re used to everything here with our host families,” Feoktistova said, adding that it will be nice to reunite with family and friends.
“It’s kind of weird because you have a home here and then you get thrown back,” Reinecke said.
Both felt their time here had made them more mature, responsible and independent. The girls said they hoped they were able to break down American’s stereotypes about themselves and their countries – Reinecke said most people thought about beer when thinking about Germany while Feoktistova said many didn’t realize she wasn’t Russian but Ukrainian, a separate country.
Both girls also felt their impressions of Americans had been changed as well.
“You come here and you see a totally different picture,” Feoktistova said.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.