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Exchange program brings students to Vermont

ADDISON — Snake Mountain was host to many unfamiliar visitors on Monday afternoon. Two dozen foreign and American students hiked up the mountain’s slope, many students of whom had a mere 48 hours earlier been on the other side of the Pacific Ocean en-route to a three-week study-trip to Vermont.
These 25 high school students traveled thousands of miles to participate in the nonprofit, educational program Green Across the Pacific.
GATP is an Addison County organization that leads a three-week environmental leadership program for American, Chinese, Thai and Bhutanese high school students. This year, the program runs from July 15 to Aug. 4 to bring representatives from these four countries together to study the natural history, economic interests, and politics of natural resource management policies.
On Monday, students followed Vermont geologist Jon Kim as he explained the history of the area, including lessons on typography and geology. But this is just the beginning. Over the three weeks, students will have the opportunity to learn from extensive field visits including farms, factories and businesses.
During their time in Vermont, the students will live and study together in the field. The program is now affiliated with the University of Vermont, so students live in the dorms, as well as with host families.
Green Across the Pacific is no average summer camp. The students in the program were selected for their deep interests in environmental studies, along with meeting other strict requirements.
Founder and director Peter Lynch began the program after visiting Hong Kong and the islands in the south China seas in the 1990s to work with his high school biology teacher. On the trip, Lynch brought five students from Fair Haven Union High School with him as part of an apprenticeship. In 1996, he was introduced to the school he is currently working with and decided to start an exchange program.
“When we visited in 1999, some of the kids told me, ‘We don’t have to agree with each other, but we have to understand each other,’” said Lynch. “When people understand each other, it’s harder for governments to do stupid things.”
Green Across the Pacific first brought foreign students to Vermont in 1998.
“When you’re talking about things like air quality, water quality, the environment really crosses boundaries,” said Lynch. “It’s a starting point for a conversation based on mutual concerns.”
The program’s schedule was devised so that the students could study the “three legs” of the environmental studies stool: the science, the business and economics, and the governmental aspects.
The program is run to encourage true reciprocal exchanges. Lynch set up the exchange so that each year alternates between trips to China or Japan and North America. Since 1996, the trips have been scheduled annually, with the exception of a few cancelations due to the SARS and H1N1 epidemics.
Especially for the Chinese students, the competition to gain entry into the program is strict. GATP is heavily advertised in the affiliated high schools, so many students apply for the few available spaces. To objectively select 12 students, prospects must score highly on an entry exam.
For most students, it is their first time in the United States and even traveling internationally.
Silvia, a sophomore Chinese high school student at 15, already has developed a deep interest in biology.
“I’ve been looking forward to visiting the paper making factory because I’m particularly into bacteria things. I want to reduce the pollutions in water in a biological way using bacteria,” said Silvia. “Few students have the same interests that I do.”
The program does charge a tuition fee for attendance. While the foreign exchange fee is much smaller than the American students’ fee, scholarships are made available through grants and other fundraising. Lynch said that the tuition is very competitive compared to other similar programs.
The defining feature of Green Across the Pacific is the international aspect. Students and educators can benefit from the unique experience of bringing different perspectives to the same place to discuss overriding issues.
Rising junior Katherine Fusco from Rutland is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the other students on the final project. She believes that working with foreign students will help her gain a higher understanding of environmental studies.
“I love cultural exchange. My whole life I’ve been living with exchange students. I love learning about the politics of environmental issues,” said Fusco. “I am most excited about working with Chinese students on our project. I think that’s going to be really cool.”
Lynch added that building relationships is a good method for problem solving.
“I think the relationship between the United States and China and other parts of Asia is increasingly critical because we’re watching a pattern shift,” said Lynch. “The best way to create a healthy relationship is through young people.”
Lynch and the Green Across the Pacific program hopes to engage the communities through their activities and encourage enthusiastic students to spread hope for a more sustainable future.
“Peace and prosperity is the not so hidden agenda,” added Lynch. 

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