Courtesy of Shawn Burkland
The Burkland family had an enriching and fun experience bringing Italian exchange students into their Ballard home.

Opinion: Bringing exchange students into Ballard is an enriching and fun experience

By Bill Burkland

It is not often that one is presented with the opportunity to learn about a foreign culture and meet new people without ever having to leave one’s home, but through the Ergon Student Exchange program, that is indeed the case.
Over the last two years, my wife and I have had the good fortune of hosting two wonderful Italian exchange students through the program.
Most recently we hosted Letizia, a smart, personable and fun student from Milan. Even though it was Letizia’s first visit to the U.S., when she arrived at our house in September she knew a surprising amount about Seattle and Washington State; she knew the state flower, the state bird, she knew the Cascades were in the east and the Olympics in the west and she knew that the Mariners were in last place in the American League.
As Letizia demonstrated in her first day in Seattle, the students in the program are driven, having a strong desire to live and study in the U.S. The students are personally selected and go through a rigorous screening process conducted by the program director in Milan, Luisa Rigobon. Louisa then takes meticulous care in matching the right Italian student to the right American host family.
While at Ballard, Letizia took Physics, Math, Photography and AP LA. In addition to excelling in her schoolwork, Letizia ran cross-country and played on a recreational league basketball team. She attended Ballard High School football and basketball games, theatrical plays and dances. All things that are not part of the High School culture in Milan.
“When all of this begun two years ago I never imagined how this experience would change my life and the way that I look at the world and people,” Letizia told us. “Now that I’m back in Milan I just need to put on my Ballard Beavers shirt to feel like I’m back there in the middle of my first school assembly looking forward to the months as an exchange student that were in front of me.”
While the program is designed around the needs of the Italian students, as a host family we had an incredibly enriching and fun experience. Having an exchange student allowed us to learn from a new perspective. It is not just the exposure to Italian culture, hosting an exchange student provides the opportunity to experience things we take for granted –the tradition of carving Halloween pumpkins, attending a high school play, having a cheeseburger at Dicks, or simply taking a walk through Discovery Park – and experience them in a whole new way. We continue to stay in contact with both our Italian students and their families and have had the opportunity to visit them in Milan. Well beyond the time Luca and Letizia returned home to Milan, the relationships, with students and family, have become an important part of our family’s life.
To learn more about hosting an Italian exchange student, please contact Gunnel Tanimoto at

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