- Associated Press - Saturday, September 30, 2017

TELLURIDE, Colo. (AP) - Sometimes the mountain town enclave of Telluride can feel a little isolated from the rest of the world.

It’s remote and hard to get to, and with so many activities at our doorstep there often isn’t a reason to leave.

Luckily for Telluride, every year the community gets the opportunity to think outside the box canyon and meet foreign exchange students from around the world at the annual Wilkinson Public Library Foreign Exchange Open House Night.

The event, which took place in September, welcomed students from Switzerland, Lithuania and Chile as part of the Telluride Rotary Club’s Youth Exchange Program.

The students will spend the school year in Telluride, living with local host families, playing on sports teams, learning English and integrating with the greater community.

Linda Meier, who comes from a small town outside of Switzerland’s Zurich, said she looks forward to playing on the girls’ ice hockey team.

“I am a big ice hockey fan and I love playing,” she said of the sport. “I am so excited for it.”

Having also come from a small town, Meier said the size of Telluride hasn’t been too much of an adjustment, but the distance to places like Montrose is surprising, she said.

“I think it is incredible that we have to drive one hour to go grocery shopping in Montrose,” she said. “In Switzerland you drive four hours and you are on the other side of the country.”

Maite Correa Geldes, of central Chile, said Telluride is very different than her hometown.

Where she lives, “There aren’t any mountains, the ocean is much closer and it is more desert-like, a lot hotter,” she said.

In addition to adjusting to a new town, Geldes also is learning English.

“When I first arrived, I could barely speak,” she said.

Now, she said, she is picking it up slowly, practicing every day.

Geldes isn’t the only one learning a new language. Five Telluride high school students also are on exchange, embracing a similar experience abroad in far-flung locales, including Austria, Germany, Finland, Spain and Taiwan.

Marilyn Branch, the Rotary Club’s youth exchange officer, said the exchange broadens the horizons of students both abroad and here in Telluride.

“It brings an international flavor into the community, especially into the school,” Branch said. “.The students get intrigued and think ‘Wow, here is someone from Switzerland or Lithuania.’ They start getting involved with the (foreign exchange students) and begin to develop this curiosity that they too can go abroad and live in another country and learn another culture.”

As for living abroad, Branch said a year in a foreign country is also a year of change.

“These kids come back and they have learned how to be independent and learned how to make decisions without mom and dad,” Branch said. “.They have also learned a new culture and how to be a legitimate human being abroad.”

Liz Gregory, a Telluride High School senior, went to Colombia last year through the exchange program.

“It was amazing,” she said. “.The people are so friendly and open and they just embrace you like family.”

Gregory lived in a town called Villavicencio, near the capital, Bogota.

“Nobody spoke English,” she said. “…And it was a pretty big city with around 500,000 people.

Now that she is back, Gregory is involved in the Rotary Club in a different way, through a school club called Interact.

“It is a Rotary-sponsored service club that is based on bettering the community around you,” said Hailey Byrom, a student who studied in Chile last year and president of the club.

This year the club has a goal of traveling to Mexico on a service trip.

And so the tradition of broadening one’s horizons continues.

___

Information from: Telluride Daily Planet, https://www.telluridenews.com

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