U.S. foreign exchange students heading overseas undeterred by terrorist attacks

Saturday, November 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ JuliAnna Poole was set to leave for a year as a foreign exchange student in the Czech Republic when terrorists hijacked jetliners and crashed them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

``We had a big blowup on the 11th,'' said her mother, Stephanie Poole of Spencer, W.Va. ``I was yelling, 'You're not going,' and she was yelling back, 'Yes, I am.' She was so adamant.''

JuliAnna, who eventually persuaded her mother to let her go, isn't alone in her interest in spending time overseas. Across the country, high school students have been flooding exchange programs with applications.

Rotary International's Youth Exchange Program for high school students has seen a surge in interest in the past few months. The number of applications received through Wednesday for next school year was up about 110 percent compared to the same period last year, said spokeswoman Christine Sobolak in Evanston, Ill.

Another exchange program, AFS Intercultural Programs, has seen a similar increases in interest, said Christine Vogel, vice president for AFS/USA in New York.

``Since September 11th, we have all been saying 'What can we do?''' Vogel said. ``For these students, the answer is to make a personal commitment to increase understanding of the world and the people in it.''

Organizers feared programs for teen-agers would suffer in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, but the opposite is happening.

At a recent informational meeting in State College, Pa., Rotary members handed out applications to 50 students _ far more than the usual five or six, said Carl Hill, a Rotary coordinator.

``This is more interest than we've ever had,'' Hill said. ``It amazes me that we would have that kind of response after Sept. 11.

``When I visit high schools, kids all over the place want to hear about the program. None of them have expressed fear about having the opportunity to travel and study abroad. They articulate concerns about the world, but it's as if they are more interested in promoting peace and understanding.''

Each year, about 130,000 American college and high school students study abroad, according to the Institute for International Education. About 8,000 high school students are overseas this school year through Rotary, and nearly 1,800 are traveling abroad with AFS.

Steven Smith, a high school junior from Martinsburg, W.Va., has applied to participate in a Rotary program next school year.

``We're showing the world that we are not afraid,'' he said. ``Even after everything that has happened, we're not scared to go out in the world. We're not going to close the borders and not let anybody in or anybody out.''

Steven finds it hard to contain his enthusiasm for the opportunity to study abroad. But his parents, like many across the world, have questioned whether they should send their child thousands of miles away from home during such uncertain times.

After the bombing of Afghanistan began, Steven agreed to a compromise that satisfied his parents.

``I wanted to go to Spain but I thought that was too close to where everything is happening,'' he said. ``Now I want to go to Australia.''

Andrea Suzzarini, 17, of Venezuela, was attending Martinsburg High School through the Rotary program when the terrorists hit. Her mother wanted her to come home immediately.

``I'm not scared, so I didn't think I should go,'' Andrea said. ``I feel if we can go to another country and learn about different cultures, different people, it makes the countries closer.''

With the help of her host mother, Judy Faul, Andrea persuaded her parents to allow her to stay in the United States.

``I e-mailed her mom to try to get her to understand that I view Andrea's safety as I would my own daughter's,'' Faul said. ``I think they now feel a level of confidence in Andrea and her judgment, and I hope in mine, to know if she wants to go back I will help her do that.''