Since 1929, high school students around the world have been chosen by Rotary International to be ambassadors to other countries. In Southold, the success of the program is well established.
Barbara Ackerman, who helps run the Rotary program here, fondly remembers 1992 Mattituck High School graduate Stephanie Sanok, who went to Denmark through the program while Barbara was in high school. After studying at Cornell and Harvard, Stephanie went on to work at the Pentagon and for the U.S. State Department in Baghdad.
Four Southold Rotary exchange students, all young women, got together with curious parents Monday at Mattituck-Laurel Library to discuss the program. Two are from Mattituck High School, one is from Southold and took part in a three-week Rotary summer exchange, and one is a German exchange student currently attending Southold High School.
Fritzi Kurz, 16, of Homburg/Sarr, Germany, said in an interview just before the library event that she had her pick of countries all over the world, but had always wanted to learn more about the United States. This is her second trip to this country.
“The USA is not always the way we see it in movies. When we think about America, we think of the new part, New York City. This part is more old,” she said of Southold.
Ms. Kurz, a member of the volleyball team in Southold, said she was enjoying the different way American schools treat the educational process. In Germany, she said, one year is devoted to science, another year to global studies and politics, and another to literature and other subjects. Here, she studies a lot of subjects at the same time.
Ms. Kurz had to go through several training sessions before she could take a year abroad. Her host family also had to go through an intense screening process.
Program coordinator Ms. Ackerman said that for last summer’s short-term exchange, local students did much more to arrange the visits themselves. Each had host sisters in the countries they visited who came back to the U.S. with them for three weeks.
Emily Fingerle, 17, of Southold, went to Spain this past summer.
“The host father I was with had been to 40 U.S. states,” she said. “And on the radio, most songs are from the U.S. My host sister knows more lyrics to American songs than I do.”
Maria Peroni, 16, of Mattituck, spent part of her summer in Denmark.
“You don’t realize how big an impact America has on the world,” she said. “I almost got into an argument over Obama by accident. They defend him to the death.”
Melissa Barry of Mattituck, also 16, went to France this summer.
“French is 10 times different than we’ve learned it here,” she said. “We speak 10 times slower.”
“These young ladies are ambassadors for their countries,” said Ms. Ackerman. “Rotary’s whole concept of the world is to help promote peace.”