On Monday, over 100 college students from China, Thailand, Ecuador and Turkey gathered at Bouquet Canyon Park to celebrate Exchange Day.
Exchange Day, which was previously known as J Day and started in 2014 by the Alliance for International Exchange, is a nationwide celebration of the power of international exchanges and an opportunity to raise awareness of educational and cultural exchange programs. This year’s local celebration was hosted by World Wide Cultural Exchange (WWCE) who welcomed their current students, alumni and the public for a “Thanksgiving in August” celebration including turkey sandwiches and sides, bobbing for apples, a pie eating contest and a three legged race.
“In their applications many of the students said that they wanted to experience and American Thanksgiving dinner but they’re only here for the summer,” said Donara Balayan, summer work and travel program manager for WWCE. “They get to experience our culture and we get to experience them. Exchange Day is a way for us to get the word out there that there are exchange students that come to Santa Clarita. Part of this is our motto ‘eat, play give,’ so to emphasize the giving, all the participants are bringing canned food to donate to the SCV Food Pantry.”
The students participating in the Exchange Visitor program with WWCE are all current full-time university students. For two to four months, depending on their school’s schedule, the students work at Six Flags Magic Mountain during summer vacation to gain work experience and improve their English speaking skills, then also travel to other cities in the country.
The program marked the first time in America for Liu Hang, a student from China. Hang said that the program opened his eyes to the differences between cultures and is a good way for young people to experience the world.
“I have been here for two months and working at Six Flags has been a good experience for me that has really improved my English,” Hang said. “People are very friendly to us and I found that American people are a lot more polite than people in China.
Maria Paula Estrella, originally from Ecuador, only arrived in America three days earlier but had been to America before as a tourist with her family. For her, the program represents a way to grow and demonstrate her maturity.
“In Ecuador, young people live with their parents until they are like 24 or 25, which is really different than in the US so I hope to learn how to be independent,”Estrella said. “I want to learn how to live on my own and buy things and travel by myself. Opportunities like this are good because I can experience different culture and see if I would like to come back or to live here in the future if I get the opportunity.”
Although she said many people do not know about the cultural exchange program, Balayan emphasized how important she believes the program and those like it are for the world.
“Cultural exchange is so vital for our world to function, not just in the U.S., and it’s an important part of people learning from each other,” she said. “These students are able to travel, work and have new experiences so that’s the most gratifying part of this.”