“Better than the Great Barrier Reef” – a People to People youth exchange

The water at Poona Lake was freezing, but it didn't stop some keen ones!

The water at Poona Lake was freezing, but it didn’t stop some keen ones!

by Michelle Gilmore

These were the words People to People Leader, Michele Zofchak used when she enthused about Rainbow Beach. Michele and fellow leaders brought 48 American exchange students to Rainbow Beach for two days last month, and said it something they will always remember.

“Between Rainbow Beach and the Great Barrier Reef, Rainbow Beach is better than the Great Barrier Reef. I would rather spend my time here. It was much more enjoyable.

“I truly appreciated the hospitality of everybody in Rainbow Beach; it touched my heart to see the whole community come together and welcome us.”

There is no doubt about it – Rainbow Beach knows how to welcome our visitors. This is the third year we have hosted the young Americans.

Principal Michael Grogan said, “Our P&C and local community hosted the People to People exchange students for their only home stay on their trip to Australia.

“The P&C have done a great job stepping in to help the People to People group after the original home stay (in Hervey Bay) fell through just four weeks ago.”

It was a delightful two days! Arriving late on the Saturday afternoon, our three boys were from three different states, but they  ‘shot some hoops’, played table tennis, Xbox and taught one of our guys a card game – and all before tasting their very first lamb roast.

Over the course of the weekend, we exposed them to pavlova, lamingtons, caramello koalas and ANZAC biscuits – other leaders kept calling them World War I cookies!

There was no use singing the praises of Vegemite, as consuming a teaspoon of the black stuff was used as punishment for minor offences on their bus.

Although we spoke the same language, both nationalities soon learnt the cultural differences; I could get used to hearing the very courteous “Yes, Ma’am”!

A perfect day was planned for the newly extended families – learning more about the area from NPWS officer, Grant Phelan, a walk through “the bush” to (and for some a swim in) Poona Lake, 4WD to a Freshwater picnic, thanks to Rainbow Beach 4×4 Hire and Rainbow Beach Adventure Centre and the extra drivers!

Mouths dropped when we drove on the sand. They were used to going “off-road” but not on a beach!

The convoy parked on Honeymoon Bay (the northern side of Double Island Point) and most of the group walked up to scramble on rocks, finding sunny perches to spot turtles and dolphins and posed at the lighthouse.

The bulk of 14 to 18 year olds were from Florida Keys, and despite the season, and our cool waters in comparison to theirs – the waves were too much of an attraction for the surfers.

We followed the Great Beach Drive home as they checked out the Coloured Sands. The souvenir and ice cream shops were hit hard on our return to town.

A bit of rain did not put our guys off the last sightseeing plan for the day – sunset from Carlo Sandblow. And after showing them sunrise that morning from the mini-blow, I was glad the Sports Club catered for their Aussie BBQ dinner. (Good strategy, team!)

No wonder the students and teachers have returned home loving Rainbow Beach, kids saying it was better than Australia Zoo or anything they did in our country!

But the event planning required loads of effort from Leanne, Brooke and Carolyn.  Well done to Kirstie, instant mum to eight girls and Rachel caring for ten boys (!), thanks to  generous holiday home donations from the Betteridge family.

We know you spent a lot of time in the laundry and kitchen; what an innovative way to make sure we could house everyone at such short notice!

The event is a major fundraiser for the school, but more importantly, it gives our children a chance to share a bit of our culture,  make new friends and learn about others and their country.

Mr. Grogan thanked all of the families and local community members who have been able to assist over the weekend.

“Your help is greatly appreciated. I would especially like to thank our People to People organising committee for coordinating the home stay, they have all done a fantastic job.”

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