Playing gigs in Italy, visiting the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, learning about etiquette in Japan - Phoenix teens have encountered all sorts of new experiences this summer with host families across the globe. And now, they're returning the favor.
Three Ahwatukee Foothills teens were among the 21 young Phoenicians to spend three weeks in one of nine spots around the globe through the Phoenix Sister Cities Youth Ambassador Exchange Program, which lets high school students experience other cultures by connecting them with host families in cities that have maintained a relationship with Phoenix.
Brothers Alex and Josh Sipes represented Ahwatukee in Catania, Italy, and Ramat Gan, Israel, respectively. The third Ahwatukee student, Clifford Alexander, traveled to Himeji, Japan, along with central Phoenix residents Adrienne Sacks and Camaley Jannings.
Each Ahwatukee student stayed with a local family, and they'll be hosting the same teens they stayed with in Phoenix for the next three weeks.
That arrangement appealed to both Sipes brothers because it offered more than a typical tourist experience.
"You got to live in another country for three weeks like any other teenager does," said Josh Sipes, who will be a junior at Desert Vista High School this fall.
"And then they get to come back here. It's not just a one-way thing," said Alex Sipes, who will be a Desert Vista senior.
Josh Sipes found a lot of similarities between Israelis and Americans, but did experience some culture shock - like no one blinking an eye at someone walking around with a rifle slung over their shoulder.
But more than weapons, a desire for peace stuck with Josh. He was fascinated seeing first-hand how the world's three major religions interact in Jerusalem.
"I learned most everyone wants to get along," he said. "People want peace, but there are just a few things stopping it."
Josh Sipes also appreciated becoming more aware of what's going on in the world. A lot of people in Israel keep up on world affairs, including things happening in the U.S., he said.
"Major things stem from where I was," he said. "It doesn't affect me every day right here, but it affects things around me."
His host brother, Matan Perchikov, arrived in Phoenix a few days ago. The people he's encountered have been friendly and eager to share, and similar to people in Israel, he said.
Though one thing has stuck out so far.
"Everything is big," he said.
Most of Alex Sipes's experiences in Italy centered around music. His host brother, Edoardo Porto, is in a jazz band, so he got to play drums with the band at an Italian wedding and watch gigs in several different spots, including one at an Italian naval base.
Even though he didn't speak Italian and not all of Porto's friends spoke English, they were still able to enjoy conversations about music.
"Music is definitely a universal language," Alex Sipes said. "We would just start singing lyrics to a song and say the artist."
Alex Sipes was also fascinated to see various ruins in Italy, some of which are still in use as theaters.
Porto enjoyed hosting and playing music with Alex Sipes.
"(We) had some problems with the language the first day, but I've improved my English," he said. "I have only beautiful things to say because I love this program."
Alexander wasn't able to meet with the Ahwatukee Foothills News, but Sacks and Jennings were able to relate some of their experiences in Japan. It's a very polite culture with an emphasis on modesty, they said.
"I see myself as a citizen of the world now, not just Phoenix," said Jennings. "I felt like I was on a different planet, being in Japan."
Now, all the teens are looking forward to exposing their "host siblings" to the U.S. They have several trips planned, including an excursion to Sedona, a Diamondbacks game and a prom.