Young Aussies experience the Northwest

The cultural exchange involved slang, snowballs and string cheese.

And for one visiting Australian teenager, the comfort of a warm letterman’s jacket.

“Pretty good fit, huh?,” said Rebecca Draheim, sporting the green-and-gold jacket she borrowed from her host, Auburn High School senior Anne Partridge.

In return, Partridge and her family were treated to some of Draheim’s hardy meat pie from scratch.

“It was fabulous,” Partridge said.

A large contingent of boys and girls from Down Under paid Auburn a visit last week – a summer vacation excursion made possible through Educational World Travel. For 20 years, the school group tours program has sent Australian students, teachers and chaperons stateside to experience the culture, forge lifelong friendships, development individual awareness, and promote tolerance and understanding.

Two groups of 17 strong from as many as four Australian high schools stayed with respective host families from Auburn and Auburn Mountainview High school students during the recent 10-day stay.

The contingent was scheduled to tour San Francisco before flying home next week.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Kylie O’Brien, a teacher from Brisbane.

Students got a taste of Auburn, with pizza, large pretzels and string cheese drawing favorite-snack status.

They marveled at the size of homes, shopping centers, even Costco.

“They all have huge houses,” said Patrick Hannan. “Our homes are smaller.”

In addition, the group toured Seattle, made their way up the Space Needle, visited the Experience Music Project and Pike Place Market, and played in the snow at Snoqualmie Pass.

They also shadowed their hosts at school and came away with some observations, such as:

• “School spirit is very different, higher here.”

• “Kids get away with iPods, cell phones. We’re much stricter with those kinds of things back home.”

• “They are into so many things.”

And the Aussies were surprised by some of the local students’ assumptions, such as:

• “We hunt for our food.”

• “We take kangaroos to school.”

• “We live in the Outback.”

But both sides did agree on one thing – the damp, chilly, gray weather was disappointing.

“I got homesick but not as bad because everybody was warm,” said Aussie Cassie Rohlf. “The weather might be cold, but the people were warm.”

Said Draheim: “It was heaps of fun.”

The experience bridged cultures and built friendships.

“We had a lot of fun,” Partridge said. “I know we will always stay in contact.”