A group of students from all over the world made the trek over the mountains from the West Side last Tuesday to learn a bit about Upper County history.

The 20 students aged 18-26, who hail from Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Tunisia are part of a program sponsored by the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students. The foundation is a community nonprofit organization established on the University of Washington campus in 1948 that aims to enhance international understanding and promote cultural exchanges between international students and Americans.

While in Upper County, the students took a hike and enjoyed a picnic, and had roundtable discussions with representatives of the United States Forest Service and the Roslyn Historical Museum. They learned about forest management in the area and the impacts of climate change, as well as the history of Upper County, including the rich multicultural diversity of the region. They also met with local business owners to learn about small business operations. They capped their day with a meet-and-greet at Basecamp Books, where they socialized with guests and enjoyed coffee and cornhole.

FIUTS Manager of Programs Ellen Frierson said the students are in the United States as part of a five-week exchange program that is co-sponsored by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, who runs a program called the Study of U.S. Institutes. The department funds the program, with the students being selected by the embassies in their home country. She said there are multiple SUSI programs being hosted by various cities across the nation at the same time.

“They’re all in their host cities for four weeks,” she said. “Then they spend a few days in a secondary city and then 100 of them will convene together in Washington D.C.”

Frierson said this year’s program marks the third one that has been hosted in Seattle. The secondary city for this year’s students will be Milwaukee, before they move on to D.C. This year’s theme is youth education and closing the skills gap, which Frierson said focuses on the future of workforce development and how educational institutions are preparing students around the world to enter the workforce in the face of rapid technological changes and globalization. Part of the students’ itinerary includes site visits to various organizations, visiting educational institutions and taking classes to learn about subjects including the history of labor and the future of the workplace in the United States.

“They will all eventually create a community action project in their home country based on what they learn and develop while they’re here,” she said. “They’re all taking classes to learn curriculum development so they can create their own training that they will deliver when they go home. It’s a really intensive program.”

Frierson said the trip to Roslyn was a perfect fit for students, as the Upper County has undergone an economic transformation from a resource extraction-based economy to a tourism-centric one. She said many of the students are seeing similar transformations in the areas they come from.

“Many of them have identified unemployment, especially among young people as a really big issue that they see in their countries and communities,” she said. “Many of them are really interested in figuring out how they can play a role in creating employment opportunities in the economy of the future since there is so much rapid change happening around the world.”

The time spent by the students in the United States is meant to be a case study, Frierson said, focusing on the models and approaches that have been taken in this country in how to educate people and create jobs. Over her years of working on the program, she said she is regularly stricken by how engaged and inquisitive the students are.

“These students are amazing,” she said. “They come from all different backgrounds. They’re majoring in all kinds of different things, so they’re coming at this from a lot of different perspectives. They have so much interesting stuff to say and so many great ideas. They’ve only been here a week, but it’s already really exciting to think about what they’re going to do when they go back to their home countries and are able to put some of what they’re learning here into action.”

IMPRESSIONS OF ROSLYN

Indira Ardiyatna, an industrial engineering student from Indonesia said being able to get out of the urban gridlock of the West Side for a day was a refreshing change of pace.

“Our first impression was like this city is really vintage,” she said. “The buildings, the woods and all the signs. It’s really nice because we arrived in Seattle a week ago and all we see is big city. Coming here is a different experience.”

Achref Cherif, a pharmacy student from Tunisia echoed the feelings of Ardiyatna.

“When we were in Seattle, we were living the American movie thing,” he said. “Huge buildings and stuff. We’ve seen a lot of that in movies. This part of America, like little towns, this is really different for us. The history side of it, we never learned about the history of America in movies and books, so this is a new experience. It’s like experiencing history in real life.”

Abdulmalik Garba, a Nigerian economics and petroleum chemistry student said learning about they dynamic history of Upper County was a moving experience for him.

“I think it’s really interesting that Roslyn, despite being a small town has a very big history of shaping the United States economy like in times of the railroad,” he said. “The immigration of over 24 different nationalities to do the coal mining. How it has led up to this moment is amazing for me.”

Reflecting on his day spent in Upper County, Garba said the concept of people being able to live comfortably in a rural environment was a concept he was not used to.

“I was thinking people mostly lived in the big cities here,” he said. “It’s interesting to see that many people live in small towns outside of the cities. That’s something new for me.”

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