Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

April 6, 2014

Exchange students give back to host community

TRAVERSE CITY — Sabina Suleymanova’s first spring break shift at the State Theatre began with a “rush” — both of customers in the concessions line and of movie-goers eager to see the free screening of the film by the same name.

Suleymanova sipped on a soda behind the concessions counter after the crowd finally thinned and chatted with her fellow volunteers. The outgoing teen was one of three exchange students with the ASSE International Student Exchange Program who spent part of spring break volunteering at the State and its sister theater, the Bijou by the Bay, making popcorn, change and friends.

“Volunteering is not so popular where I live,” said Suleymanova, 17, of Baku, Azerbaijan, a country on the Caspian Sea in southwest Asia. “It’s fun because I meet so many people and I like to talk to people about my country. A lot of them don’t know it. A lot of people say, ‘Write down your country for me.’”

Volunteer service is a mandate of the girls’ exchange program, said Olave Russell, who hosts Suleymanova, and acts as area ASSE coordinator. But only 50 hours are required.

Each of the girls has served more than 100 hours at the theaters so far, with several weeks left to go during their stay in Traverse City. Aidai Amankulova of Talas, Kyrgyzstan, southeast of Kazakhstan, and Kunlanart Wichian of Bangkok, Thailand, also volunteered about 30 hours each with the Grand Traverse Pavilions’ child care program.

“We are so lucky to have foreign exchange students,” said Betsy Ray, State Theatre volunteer coordinator. “They are so smart. Not only are they dealing with money and commerce but with ... show business.”

All three of the students are Muslim and seniors at Traverse City Central High School. They began volunteering shortly after they arrived late last summer.

Taking orders and making change is a way to learn about American currency and to immerse themselves in American culture and customs, said Amankulova and Wichian, who live with exchange host Owen Cook.

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