A cultural exchange
Students from around the world gather in Yellowknife

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 23/97) - It was an learning opportunity of a lifetime.

For seven exchange students at Sir John Franklin high school, visiting Yellowknife was more than just an opportunity to improve their English.

"You are very lonely at first, but then you learn a lot about yourself," said 16-year-old Tobias Jensen of Denmark.

While all admit that learning the international language was their main motivation for coming to Canada, the students -- ages 16 to 18 -- have all acquired considerable life experience.

The students, from Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, France, Latvia and Japan, have all been living with host families in the city since they came to Yellowknife at the beginning of the school, part of the AFS Interculture Exchange program.

Keith Sanders, president of the NWT chapter, said that the program benefits both the exchange students and the host family. Each student lives with a local family during their time in the country. On a voluntary basis, the family agrees to allow the student to live with them.

While he admits it's not for everyone, Sanders said the benefits the students bring are limitless. And as a host himself, he said that it's a truly valuable experience.

"They bring the world right into your living room," he said. "And you also learn a lot about your own family."

And for the students themselves, they wouldn't have given up the opportunity.

"I like the atmosphere in Yellowknife," said Sarah Scholl, 18, of Switzerland. "It's difficult to explain, but I quite like it. It's different."

But Leonardo Viani, 17, of Italy said he learned a valuable lesson about life in Yellowknife.

"I learned not to stick my mouth on metal when it's minus 40," laughs Viani. "I put my keys in my mouth once when I dropped the mail on the ground." He vows he'll never do that again.

All seven students head home in July, but they plan to stay in touch until they meet again in two years for a reunion.