NEW YORK -- Teenagers from eight different countries talked earnestly to each other, sometimes tripping over the end of each other's sentences, as they eagerly learned about their counterparts. Questions and recommendations flavored with one accent after another bounced around the crowded room.
"How do you say hello in Italian?"
"Will you join your country's military one day?"
"Can you spell that for me?"
"How do you say your name?"
"If you go to Britain, make sure you have a full English breakfast."
Young Marines from ten different national units in the United States joined cadets from seven other countries in an international exchange to promote friendship and increase knowledge of other countries. The kids kicked off the exchange with a ceremony inside the Soldiers', Sailors', Marines' and Airmen Club (SSMAC) in New York City Tuesday.
"This is an incredible experience," said Young Marine Staff Sgt. Caitlin Ferrarell, who is part of North Suburban Young Marines in Glenview, Ill. "We're getting to bond with people from all over the world."
Young Marines is the official youth program of the Marine Corps for boys and girls ages eight through completion of high school. It focuses on character building and leadership, and it promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. According to Young Marines Inspector General Joseph Bles, this is the third year Young Marines have participated in the exchange.
"We joined forces with the Army Cadet Exchange (ACE) program, which is supported mainly in Europe," said Bles. "We work with them to do a one on one exchange of Young Marines for their cadets." A Young Marine who is at least 16 years old visits the host country for each foreign cadet that visits the U.S.
"The first year we started with four countries," Bles said, "but now we have eight (countries) involved."
"How well they relate to each other is astonishing to me," Bles added. "They like the same kind of music and they talk about the same things," he said. "They even have the same kind of values...so they form friendships for life."
"We've spent so much time just enjoying hanging out with each other," said 18-year-old Ferrarell. "Last night we all stayed up late laughing with each other."
"Making new friends is a nice change," said Will Thorogood, a 17-year-old from Great Britain. "We're so used to meeting the same people...this is awesome!"
"It sheds some light on cultures we would otherwise never get to know," said Ferrarell.
The Young Marines will spend the next week showing the Europeans around. "We want to show them a mix of American culture and the military," said Bles.
They started in Times Square. "Things were crazy there," said Anja Wolter, from Germany. "All the lights and people...it's not like that in Germany."
The cadets also toured historic Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 attacks. Their next stop is Washington, D.C. From there they will also travel to Huntsville, Ala. to visit the U. S. Space and Rocket Center before they return home.
"When you go back to your countries, I hope you will return with a good sense of our country and our military," Peter LeBreau, SSMAC Treasurer, said to the cadets yesterday. "And remember, you are always welcome here."