Kent, Auburn Sister Cities groups help teens explore the world

Shenaya Birel (left) and Shannon Parmley will visit Norway as part of Kent
Shenaya Birel (left) and Shannon Parmley will visit Norway as part of Kent's Sister Cities program.
— image credit: Kent Reporter

The Kent and Auburn Sister Cities Associations are hosting another group of teens ready to explore the world.

China, Japan, and Norway will receive 13 students total in July while students from those countries travel to Kent as well.

All students participating this year are first-time Sister Cities ambassadors with the exception of two students from Auburn traveling to Tamba, Japan a second time. Upon return, all students will create and present a project documenting one aspect of their experience they appreciated the most. Although most of the students have traveled to other countries before, all are excited to spend a part of their summer vacation in another part of the world.

Yangzhou, China

Haley Beavers, Gideon Driver and Anna Watson have already bonded, and they haven't even left for China yet.

These Kentwood High School students didn't know each other before submitting their applications to be Sister Cities ambassadors, but they're already hyping each other up for the new experiences they'll encounter abroad.

"You just get this high when you go to a new place," Beavers said to Watson who's travelled around the United States but never as far as China.

Beavers participated in a tour around Europe in years past. Having seen what that continent has to offer, she's ready to soak up every bit of China.

"It's a totally different culture," Beavers said. "I'm very adventurous (and) want to travel the world so it's gonna be awesome."

Driver participated in the same tour of Europe only at a different time. But his perspective of visiting China has him looking toward the future.

"I want to be a programmer," Driver said, "(and) I know China's focus is more on technological stuff. I feel like it will just be a learning experience."

Watson, who's taken a road trip around the United States with her family, is excited to see how this international experience will change her once she returns.

"I'm hoping I become more confident," Watson said. "(I'm hoping to) find out who I am by myself away from people I've been around since I was really little. Just traveling around with other kids is pretty crazy."

What the trio is really excited about is the food they'll get to try while in Yangzhou. Driver's love of seafood will be satisfied while abroad while Beavers hopes to try some authentic Chinese dumplings.

All three Kentwood students hope to travel abroad again in the near future. While no future plans have been finalized, their love of travel motivates them to see even more of the world.

"This is what I want my life to be--jet-setter," Beavers said. I want to travel the world (because) I think it's really inspirational."

Tamba, Japan

While most of the students traveling to Tamba, Japan this summer will be first-time ambassadors, Katelyn Cowger and Kaelyn Buettner of Auburn Riverside High School are looking forward to seeing the country a second time.

"We're exceptions," Cowger said. "This year they only had Kent applicants so they decided to choose two past Auburn ambassadors."

The excitement of getting to travel to Japan a second time has the girls making plans to see the things they missed the first time around.

"I didn't get to go to a bath house while I was there so that's something I want to do," Cowger said. "I also want to go to Nara because they're really famous for their deer. They have deer statues, and their deer will come up and bow to you if you give them food."

Buettner, who was able to experience a bathhouse on her last night in Tamba, is excited to visit a cosplay shop in Kobe, Japan. Buettner's interest in anime not only motivated her to study Japanese in school but also kindled her friendship with Cowger. Sharing their experiences abroad and love of anime, both are ready to return to the country where they felt really welcome.

"(My host family) really welcomed me as part of their family," Buettner said. "It was a moment where I was really happy."

For the other six students from Kent traveling to Japan in July, the opportunity to experience the cities and people of Japan is a dream come true.

"Im really excited to go because it's a place I've dreamt of (going), and I just want to learn more about it and just see what there is to see," said Nelyann Pereira, a first-year Japanese student from Kentridge High School.

All the students heading to Tamba this summer know this is a trip of a lifetime.

"Well just the experience of traveling overseas is enough to stick with you for the rest of your life," said Heremaia Erickson, a student at Mill Creek Middle School.

Sunnfjord, Norway

Kent-Meridian's Shenaya Birkel is no stranger to Europe.

Living in Stuttgart, Germany until she was 9 years old, Birkel got to travel around the continent and experience other European countries, but never Norway.

Now that the opportunity presented itself, she's wasting no time to go back to the continent where she grew up.

"I wanted to go back," Birkel said. "I know Europe has super pretty architecture and everything…(there's just) something about Europe."

Kentwood's Shannon Parmley is looking at this international experience from a different angle. Parmley's been to the border of Canada and the border of Mexico so getting to go as far as Norway is an experience she'll take with her when she graduates next spring.

"I'd like to experience something different and open my eyes up to something different," Parmley said. "(And) I'd like to have some experience to say I've done before I go to college."

Although both girls are going into this adventure with limited knowledge and language skills, Birkel and Parmley can't wait to take in all of Norway and all that will come with the experience.

"I'm super excited," Birkel said. "I'm counting down the days."




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