Lacey says farewell to students from Poland

Exchange students from sister city Minsk-Mazowiecki prepare Polish potluck for host families, city officials

rboone@theolympian.comFebruary 24, 2014 

About 30 people, including two members of the Lacey City Council, gathered Sunday to try Polish food and say an early goodbye to a group of teens from Minsk-Mazowiecki, Lacey’s sister city in Poland.

The teens — four girls and two boys — spent a month in Lacey with their host families, visiting sites throughout the city as well as other regional destinations, including the Space Needle in Seattle and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.

They attended North Thurston High School for the duration of their stay.

The students are set to leave Friday, along with their chaperone, Iwona Rojek, an elementary school teacher who teaches English as a second language.

But before their scheduled departure, they met Sunday at the city’s maintenance center for a potluck, the students preparing Polish food — pirogi, rolled cabbage, potato-based dishes and desserts — for their host families, sister city officials and Lacey City Council members Virgil Clarkson and Michael Steadman.

Lacey has had a sister city relationship with Minsk-Mazowiecki for about 10 years and there have been nine exchanges in that time, sister city association president Mary Kirker said.

And all of them, including chaperone Rojek, were visiting the U.S. for the first time.

Rojek, 43, was so inspired by her visit that she wrote a poem about Lacey in English, which was read aloud at a recent City Council meeting.

She called her time here “great, wonderful and fantastic.”

“It was awesome,” she added in the most American of ways.

A common theme among the students was how open and friendly Americans are.

Polish people tend to be more reserved, but here she was welcomed like family, said Aneta Cabaj, 18.

Basia Fracz, 16, said one of her memorable experiences was watching the Super Bowl with a group of loud and colorful people. “I really loved it,” she said.

Zuza Samson, 17, said she enjoyed the food — hamburgers, jelly beans and doughnuts — as well as the weather, calling it milder than Poland’s winters. It’s also so green, she said.

Greg Sullivan, who hosted Basia Fracz, said he decided to host a student after his own experience of traveling with his daughter and the North Thurston High School band to Poland and being hosted by families in that country.

He called the Polish people very giving and gracious.

“Strip away the politics and we’re all the same,” he said about the experience.

Sullivan, who works at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was set to give the exchange students a tour of part of the base on Monday, he said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com

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