Picture of Sarah Martin and Jelena Petrovic

Sarah Martin (Host Student) and Jelena Petrovic (International Student) meet a Union Station at the start of the 13 day visit to Kansas City

LEE’S SUMMIT, SEPTEMBER 17, 2012 – Earlier this summer the phone rang and the question was: Would you be willing to host a student from Central Europe for two weeks?  Fortunately Tina answered the phone, and then Sarah was involved and we all said; sure!

A friend of ours works at the International Visitors Council of Greater Kansas City (KCIVC).  They are a non-profit volunteer service organization whose purpose is to improve global understanding and make peace through exchange programs between international visitors and Americans in our communities.

While most of their month to month programs are with adults, in the past few years the Department of State has increased their involvement in programs oriented towards youth, to empower the next generation and to involve people in international affairs at a younger age.

KCIVC works with the families, the students, and visitors to make sure everyone learns the most from the experience.

Our visitor was a Jelena Petrovic from Serbia.  She arrived in Kansas City on a Saturday; she first landed in Washington DC several days earlier.  Sunday was a day to relax, and then for the next 13 days it was non-stop for both Jelena and Sarah.  They both participated in a high intensity Youth Leadership Program.

I asked Jelena how she was selected to the program and she told me that she had to write an essay, and then she had several interviews with various officials including U.S. State Department people before she was selected for this opportunity.  After meeting the group both at Union Station when they arrived, and then a few times during their stay I can honestly say these are truly special people that represented their countries, families and culture extremely well.

Imagine at age 17 going through this lengthy process of evaluation, including English skills – which by the way were excellent – just to get the chance to work hard for three weeks and then go back home and continue the hard work.

Picture of International Students And American Counterparts

Group of International Students from Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungry with their American Counterparts

When I asked what she expected, Jelena said “When I got in this program I didn’t have a clear idea of what it would look like. I expected to meet many new people, new culture and new way of life.”

They did get time to take in the Cultural sites in Kansas City:

  • Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
  • President Truman Museum
  • American Jazz Museum and
  • Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

But they also remained focused on their core mission – making a difference and taking what they learned back home.

  • Synergy House
  • Harvester’s
  • Della Lamb;
  • Operation Breakthrough

Jelena said that she “really enjoyed packing presents for the children at Della Lamb because I knew that the presents would make the children happy, and working at Harvesters because I had the opportunity to help people in need.”

Picture of Jelena Petrovic Lenexa Police Cruiser

International Student Jelena Petrovic gets to sit in the driver’s seat of a Lenexa Police Cruiser during a visit to Lenexa City Hall

Then she said something that really stuck with me: “For me, the best impression of all was the time spent with the teenagers from Synergy House.  Hearing their stories I realized that we teenagers take for granted the fact that we are being cared for, but some of us don’t experience the same care.

That was an eye opening moment for me hearing it, as well as for Jelena and Sarah who experienced it thanks to the program put together by KCIVC.  Fourteen people from Central Europe travel to Kansas City to show us – who live here – how much we can do in our own backyard to help those who need it most; because they are our next generation.

Jelena explained that the participants from the four countries (Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary) prepared their traditional dishes at Synergy House, “and we all enjoyed the dinner and the evening together.  Our group from Serbia made gibanica [a traditional pastry] and pancakes a la Serbia!”

They also had some fun by going to two pool parties put together by the host families, and they spent a long Saturday canoeing down the Niangua:  Well, to be fair from the stories they told it was mostly carrying their canoes (portage sounds way too dignified for the kids who enjoyed their sundrenched day getting in and out of their canoe).  The fun part is that I was not there; yet, listening to Jelena and Sarah talk about it gave Tina and I a sense that it was a lot of – well deserved – fun.

Picture of Canoe Trip Portage on the Niangua River

The canoe trip included learning the art of portage over land, maybe a bit of Lewis and Clark…

At the end of a very exhausting two weeks I asked Sarah to tell me what she thought of the program, and she very sincerely told me “It gives a sense of pride to the teenager’s participating, like me, because of the program’s push to make a difference in the area we live in. I feel privileged being given the opportunity to represent my country and make the lifelong friendships that I did.

Jelena spoke of her last activity here in Kansas City “We spent our last day in Worlds of Fun, where I had my first roller coaster ride. It was scary and amazing at the same time, but I’m really proud of myself ’cause I ”survived” the ride on the highest one!”  That was her very first time on a Roller Coaster.

She had mixed feelings about food in America, but I have to say she was brave and tried just about everything – including guacamole, that green stuff is a bit scary the first time you see it.  While she loved Starbucks, she was not crazy about all the fast food, the salty and sweet foods, and then there was the night at La Fuente on Douglas here in Lee’s Summit – a bit too much spice for her taste.

She made it a point to say that she “is impressed by the variety of cuisines which can be found in Kansas City.”  Yes, if you’re wondering on her first Sunday here we had a KC style BBQ on our back deck and the entire family celebrated her visit to Lee’s Summit.

In a recent e-mail Jelena said about her visit to the United States, “I felt comfortable among American people ’cause they are always kind and smiling and willing to answer many questions we asked them about everything.

I have to say that comparing the program for the previous international student we hosted, and the program that Sarah participated in this summer as she visited France, the focus of the agenda put together by KCIVC was by far the best organized, the most rewarding, and responsible for more long-lasting friendships that the others.

If you’ve ever thought of helping show what American’s are truly like, give KCIVC a call; I’m sure they can use your help.

I want to close with this comment from the International Visitors Council of Greater Kansas City “KCIVC promotes citizen diplomacy by person-to-person contacts to help shape United States foreign relations One Handshake at a time.

Respectfully Submitted,
The Lee’s Summit Conservative