MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University recently hosted 26 high school students from several different Central American countries, to give them a taste of the United States and help them learn about leadership, entrepreneurship and civic service.
The program is sponsored through the U.S. Department of State and allows students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are high achievers in school to travel to the U.S.
The students came from six different countries in Central America: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
Students from Central American volunteered at the St. Vincent De Paul Store in Marquette, as well as the Marquette County YMCA and Habitat for Humanity. Despite the language barrier, the visitors learned the value of giving of their own time without expecting anything in return. (Journal photo by Claire Abent)
Analisa Algandona, the program officer for the Central American Youth Ambassador Program at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., accompanied the students during the trip.
"Here in Marquette they have seen a little bit of everything," she said.
The students learned from local businesses 4-Safety, Garden Bouquet and Design and the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum about leadership and entrepreneurship. Then the students visited those same business to see those principles in action.
The students spent time at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming, where they learned about ice fishing and went tubing. The also were able to attend an NMU hockey game and visit Marquette Senior High School. They toured NMU and learned about Facebook.
Another aspect of the program has the students learning about civic service, and one afternoon the students were broken up into groups and sent to three locations, the St. Vincent De Paul Store, the Marquette County YMCA and a Habitat for Humanity build in Marquette to do volunteer work. Algandona said that for most of them, this is a new experience.
"Since we are teaching each part of the program here in Marquette, today we are doing volunteer work. I feel like they learned that the U.S. is not just like what they see in the movies. Like with the volunteering, they are learning to give something without expecting anything in return. Their whole image of the U.S. changes," she said.
A 17-year-old student from El Salvador, Bryan Henriquez, said that he was enjoying his trip so far.
"I like the people, because you know, they are all very friendly. I feel happy to be here," he said.
Even the difference in the weather from his home country wasn't deterring his spirits.
"I had an idea what it would be like," he said. "At home at this time it's time to go to the beach. It's totally different."
Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity proved to be an enlightening experience for Henriquez, who said that there are not many programs like that in his country.
"Volunteering is a way and a style of life. In my country, you have to do it by yourself. There are only one or two programs if you want to go out and do it."
This is the third time NMU has hosted students through this particular grant.
"Northern Michigan University does a fantastic job with the program," Algandona said. "We depend on the families here in Marquette to open their doors to these kids for a week."
As a new addition to the program, this summer, American students will be traveling to Nicaragua and Honduras for two weeks as part of an exchange. Slots are available for the program to local students, who are encouraged to apply.
They will be joining students from Idaho, Texas and New York. Contact Rehema Clarken or Miriam Moeller in the International Program Office at NMU for more information or an application by calling 227-2510.
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.