Pleasanton Weekly

News - August 12, 2011

Viva la teen exchange to Tulancingo

High school students enjoy sister-city program with Mexico

by Priyanka Mody

Two months ago, local youths welcomed teenagers who were much like themselves from Pleasanton's sister-city of Tulancingo, Mexico. After a four-week visit, the Pleasanton teens returned with their guests to Tulancingo.

Throughout the eight weeks, both groups became exposed to different cultures and made memories that will influence their lives.

It was more than 25 years ago that talks of an exchange program began between Bob Athenour, an Amador Valley High School Spanish teacher, and Steve Noble, a member of the Pleasanton City Council. During a trip to Mexico City and Tulancingo, Athenour spoke with the president of its Chamber of Commerce, Joel Marroquin. As a result, the Pleasanton-Tulancingo Sister City Association (PTSCA) was created in 1985, and since then, more than 150 American Youth Ambassadors have participated in this cultural exchange, in addition to the group's annual adult exchanges.

Youth Exchange Director Rita Galvin explained the selection process: The students chosen must attend a Pleasanton high school, present letters of recommendation from a teacher and another adult, fill out an application, and have been studying Spanish for at least a couple of years. After an interview process, five to six participants are selected.

This year, five students served as student ambassadors from Pleasanton, hosting the Mexican teens then traveling abroad with them. Unlike many other exchange programs, the individual from Tulancingo who stays with someone in Pleasanton is not the host of that same person back in Mexico. Galvin said that this allows for a more diverse experience.

Courtney Dickson, who will be a junior at Amador Valley High, hosted Enrique Macedo during his four weeks in Pleasanton; however, in Tulancingo, she stayed with Fernanda Hernandez's family.

While Courtney admits that staying with a different student in Tulancingo was initially harder, she realized, as her homestay progressed, that the shift actually provided a unique experience.

"They give you a different perspective," Courtney said. "And, I know I'll have two houses in Tulancingo if I go back."

Courtney became interested in the program when her school held meetings about the exchange. While initially the biggest incentive was that it would be great to put on her college application, she said the entire trip allowed her to appreciate that the experience was more than just a checklist item on her resume.

"More than the college, it's about the friends that now I know," she said.

After a month in Tulancingo attending classes, sightseeing and just blending in with the foreign surroundings, Courtney said that of all the memories, what stood out to her was how similar the people are in both cultures.

"Once we started talking, we realized we really are the same ... we share the same friend problems and family relationships," she said.

The friendships students formed eased the challenges presented by cultural and language barriers. While Courtney said that most of the Tulancingo youths were more conversational in English than the Americans were in Spanish, they did manage to communicate sufficiently. Furthermore, the exchange program provides a coordinator in Tulancingo who can help the students sort any issues they may have with their host family to ensure that they are comfortable.

While in Pleasanton, the teens participated in a variety of activities ranging from barbecues on the Fourth of July to visits to the state Capitol to trips to Monterey and San Francisco.

Similarly, the host families traveled with their visitors extensively throughout Tulancingo and other parts of Mexico showcasing their own sights, such as the capital, the pyramids and Vera Cruz. The other teens who traveled to Mexico were Ivory Beltran from Foothill High, and Sierra Boyd-Baxter, Scott Townsend and Linsay Lloyd from Amador Valley.

The adult exchange takes place each year in September, with the Tulancingo group first visiting Pleasanton; in return, a delegation of around 25 to 30 adults travels to Tulancingo.

"It's really an exchange of people," Galvin said.

The sister-city program pays for various expenses of the trip for the youths through its fundraising events and dues, so their major expense is the airfare, according to the website.

Tomorrow night the Pleasanton-Tulancingo Sister City Association will hold its annual Auction and Fundraiser at the Fairgrounds. To learn more, visit ptsca.org.

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