Breaking through some stereotypes

Published 9:15 pm Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anyone stumbling upon Murphy’s Mill Cabin late Tuesday afternoon might have thought they’d discovered a regular Boy Scout cookout.

Around and inside the rustic wooden cabin on the banks of Murphy Pond, adults were connecting propane bottles to grills, arranging plastic cups beside drink coolers, and keeping a constant eye on a gang of excited children. The excited children were animatedly chatting and running around exploring the peaceful setting just inside the woods.

But the event was actually a meeting of cultures, with Suffolk Boy Scout Troop 1929 giving 16 foreign exchange students a fitting send-off after they spent a month with Tidewater families, including two in Suffolk.

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The ease with which the different cultures mixed was a reminder that despite language, customs and other cultural barriers, the people of the world have a lot in common, no matter where we’re from.

It was also a reminder of the benefits of exposing children to different cultures and thus broadening their horizons.

Cubmaster Cindy Fegley, whose family hosted 16-year-old Spaniard Jaime Malo Alvarez, said the experience was a positive one for her son, who is a couple of years younger than Alvarez.

The group that organized the exchange visits, Foreign Links Around the Globe, needs many more host families for the next batch of foreign students, who are arriving for the 2012-2013 school year.

The group’s local coordinator, Liz Abrams, said that among Tidewater localities, Suffolk is a particularly attractive proposition for foreign students, as the school district is still accepting enrollments.

She encouraged families to take on an exchange student or two as a way of teaching their children about the world beyond America, without having to climb aboard a costly long-haul flight.

At a time when many people around the world are confused and misinformed about who Americans are and what America is, it’s also an opportunity to do a little something to give folks a better idea.

At the cabin Tuesday, the 16 students, who are back with their own families now, could have passed for kids from anywhere in America. Sitting on logs around the ashes of a former campfire, they were kind of awkward and more than a little self-conscious.

They spoke in only positive terms of their experiences, and the friendships they formed with their American host families could endure for many years.

Right about now, they should be getting reacquainted with family and friends back home, telling them about the country where they lived for four weeks, and breaking through some stereotypes.

Any families wishing to be hosts in the fall can visit www.flag-intl.org or call 1-800-942-3524 for more information.