When Mountain Pointe High School senior Morgen Schreiner lived with a family in Grenoble, France, this summer she was surprised to be bombarded with unexpected questions. "The first question everybody asked me was did I like (President) Bush," she said. "Then when they found out I was from Arizona, they would ask me if I like cowboys or Indians better." Schreiner was one of 40 students chosen by the Phoenix Sister Cities Commission to participate in the Youth Ambassadors Exchange Program (YAEP). Her experience, she says, is one she will never forget. "It sounds weird, but I really learned to appreciate America because I didn't realize we had a culture here," Schreiner, 18, said. "So many people said I was lucky for being an American. It is really frustrating for them that they don't speak English." The purpose of YAEP is to offer opportunities for Phoenix high school students to appreciate and understand other cultures through an abroad/home stay experience. Through the program, students have an opportunity to travel to one of the 10 sister cities and stay with a host family for three weeks. They then, in turn, must host their brother or sister for the same length of time in Phoenix. Schreiner's host sister, Marlene Junet, stayed with Schreiner's family in Ahwatukee Foothills for three weeks. "The first thing she wanted to do was go to the movies because they are a much bigger deal here," Schreiner said. "She bought popcorn and was really excited because they don't have popcorn there." Their biggest obstacle? Communication. Schreiner's mother doesn't speak French and other YAEP students from France lived with their host families across the Valley. "I took her to a coffee shop where I knew someone spoke French because it really gives you a headache after a while," Schreiner said. Today 1,283 cities in the U.S. are linked with 2,139 international cities in 137 countries through the sister cities program. Phoenix sister cities include Calgary, Canada; Catania, Italy; Chengdu, China; Ennis, Ireland; Grenoble, France; Hermosillo, Mexico; Himeji, Japan; Prague, Czech Republic; Ramat-Gan, Israel and Taipei, Taiwan. High school students can apply as sophomores or juniors for the summer entering their junior or senior year. The deadline for summer 2008 is Dec. 7. "There are a lot of essay questions like, 'What would you do if you were served food you didn't like?'" Schreiner said. "Then, if you are selected, they call you in for four or five interviews at City Hall." Students must be willing to participate in the program as a Youth Ambassador for one year. Now that last year's program is coming to an end, Schreiner said she is currently promoting the program by doing volunteer marketing, participating in workshops and telling her story to other high school students. "My favorite experience didn't have anything to do with going to France," Schreiner said. "I've made so many friends here in this program. I have friends around the world now, even with the language barrier." For more information, visit www.phoenixsistercities.org. Corinne Frayer can be reached at (480) 898-7917 or cfrayer@aztrib.com.

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