BEAR VALLEY - The 80-acre Cerny Ranch in Bear Valley is a half-world away from 19-year-old Ewa Jachym's home near Wroclaw, Poland, but the Cerny family and Jachym have some commonalties - Adele has Polish ancestors and Mark comes from a Slovakian background.
Jachym is one of only two Polish youth to participate this year through the International Four-H Youth Exchange program.
"It's not like a trip to see another country," she said, "It's more - you learn the culture while living with people. ...You start seeing good and bad about your country. Now I know how much my culture means to me."
She found a temporary home with Cernys through the Grant County Extension office with assistance of Extension Agent Elaine Husted who advertised for a host family. The advertisement caught Cerny's attention, and the prospect for mutual sharing and education unfolded.
This is Jachym's first time in the United States, but not her first experience with Americans. Last year her family, which consists of her grandparents, mother and brother, hosted a West Virginian girl for a month through the IFYE program. That positive experience opened Jachym's thought to the possibility for her to come to America. She arrived on June 25 and spent time with three different families in Michigan before arriving in Oregon, then spent three weeks in Corvallis before coming to Grant County. She left the Cernys' home on Nov. 9 to spend her last three weeks with a Grants Pass family before her tour ends on Dec. 7.
Adele Cerny is the Seneca School principal and before Jachym arrived this fall a schoolwide research project was focused on Poland. Jachym, who has already graduated from high school, spent ample time at the school and made presentations on her country's geography, language, customs and traditions. The Seneca students also enjoyed learning about Polish crafts such as Jachym's 4-H Club's special fund-raising project - elaborate greeting cards decorated with ribbons, lace and glitter. The schoolwide feast in late October offered a variety of Polish foods. The learning experience goes both ways. To recompense, the Seneca students shared some American idioms with Jachym.
Grant Union High School sophomore Anne Terese Cerny was kept busy with her own schoolwork during Jachym's visit, although the two did find time to attend the Homecoming Dance and she shadowed Anne Terese during a normal school day.
One main component of Jachym's successful experience in America is that she is fluent in English, a required school study. She got the basics in elementary school then got serious with four years of English during high school. During college she also plans to study French.
The 4-H program is prolific in Poland, with more than 400 clubs. One main difference is that it operates as a private organization. Her mother serves as a 4-H leader. Projects are much simpler, with not many big animal or livestock projects, according to Jachym, who has been involved in 4-H for seven years. It's not unusual for a club to take on a joint project, such as one rabbit, and she knows of an orphanage's 4-H club that has two dogs. All the 4-H clubs are invited to a yearly meeting, there they share their projects. Crafts - such as painted glass and plaster, Easter baskets and holiday decor - are popular and Jachym's club meets tri-weekly to work on their main fund-raiser, greeting cards which are sold to help fund field trips and other activities.
In general the Polish lifestyle is much simpler, slower paced. The country's perception of the United States is good as Jachym assures that many people want to come to see America. One common view of the U.S. is "fast food, work and rush." She verified that the American lifestyle is "very, very busy" and at times, "too intense." Overall, each American family she's spent time with has had a very busy schedule. But even in remote Grant County she finds little slack time.
As she spends time at home with the Cerny family, common enjoyment came from preparing meals together. Because of similar ancestry, Polish food has been in the limelight. Mark was delighted to hear pronunciations of certain foods/dishes that were similar to what he heard from his grandparents, who weren't Polish, but lived in relative close proximity in Slovakia. Adele also joined in preparing foods, some familiar like pierogi and other new tastes such as nalesniki which are crepes filled with ricotta cheese, jam or fruit and served at dinner time. In Poland, soup is a basic dish, Jachym said, and often the main meal of the day is served at 2 or 3 p.m., depending on the specifics of families or work situations.
Because the Cernys do not watch much television, there was more family interaction and time to play. She brought along Polish CDs to share her country's music, but American music is not new to her. "She's good at chess, too," said Mark.
Jachym's village of about 200 people is quiet, but not as secluded as the Cerny Ranch. She also noticed the longer distances between destinations. The terrain here has much more open space, although Jachym also has forests near her village where people hunt deer, fox and wild boar. Another difference is that the Cerny home operates on solar power, with wood backup heat. The cozy home, established in 1979, was built by Mark using his fine craftsmanship.
During a round-table discussion, the Cernys along with Husted talked about the diversity of American families. As Jachym indicated most Polish families having similar activities, the others realize that American families can live side-by-side but have completely different lifestyles, incorporating their own cultures.
They agree that America is the melting pot, and we can celebrate our uniqueness.
Husted knows what it's like to be in a foreign country; at age 24 she was an International Farm Exchange Youth to Germany. In all, she noted that the foreign experience helps break down stereotypes. Differences and commonalties are acknowledged and all can learn and grow.
"You learn a lot about yourself, your character. It has made me more tough, more adult, and I have become more open," Jachym said.
She plans to study tourism at college and most likely will live at home until her marriage, which is not uncommon for young people.
Someday Ewa Jachym would like to see more of America, and likewise the Cernys may want to have a personal experience Poland.
One important aspect of the IFYE program, Husted said is to promote peace and understanding of foreign countries - one person, one family at a time.
It appears that the IFYE program is working. It brought together people who can appreciate each other for who they are and where they came from.
More about the International Four-H Youth Exchange
IFYE founded in 1948 and serves countries all over the world
Open to 4-H alumni and young adults 19-30 years old
IFYE enhances the 4-H program through international, cross-cultural experiences that enable youth to improve leadership and communication skills while increasing their international awareness and understanding. The program allows for three to six month stays with a host family usually during late June through September or mid-December.
Fees average around $4,000-$5,000 and include airfare, travel, food, lodging, supplemental insurance and orientation and evaluation programs. Financial support and fund-raising assistance may be available through the local/state 4-H offices.
The program is administered through a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Extension Serivce and the IFYE Alumni Association of the U.S.A.
Host families are needed to welcome IFYE participants into their homes and include them in family life.
For more information, call Grant County Extension Agent Elaine Husted at 575-1911 or contact CD International Program Services L.L.C., Office USA, 922 East Kaler Dr., Phoenix, AZ 85020, e-mail CDIntl@worldnet.att.net
"As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own." - Margaret Mead.