After passing through Los Angeles and Las Vegas on the way to Aspen, 12 high school students from Queenstown, New Zealand, have one piece of advice for Americans: eat healthier, homegrown food.
Ranging from 14 to 17 years old, the students arrived in Aspen on Friday and will stay for two weeks as part of Aspen’s Sister Cities program. On Tuesday, they sat down with Mayor Steve Skadron.
One student likened American bread to doughnuts because of the sweetness. Another student said some of the food they ate in Los Angeles was so over-processed it was inedible. She was particularly surprised by the boxed bacon and pre-mixed pancakes she saw in an American grocery store. In New Zealand, she said, it’s more common for people to buy the raw ingredients for a meal.
“You have a lot of farms in New Zealand,” program director Jill Sheeley said.
“We have more sheep than humans,” one student responded.
The trip is the second half of a student-exchange program between Queenstown and Aspen. In July, seven Aspen students visited New Zealand. While visiting Aspen, the Kiwis will spend a day at Aspen High School, while also taking two tours of Smuggler Mine and Hallam Lake. They also will spend two days skiing, one day snowmobiling and another nordic skiing.
Megan Ide, one of two chaperones from Queenstown, said she thinks her local government does not give the program the same support that Aspen does. Queenstown officials, she said, have leaned more toward establishing relationships with cities in China, rather than in the U.S.
“What do we bring back to our council (to gain support for the program)?” she asked Skadron.
He said that as a public official, it’s his job to make sure every public dollar is properly spent. While visiting Abetone, Italy, another potential sister city to Aspen, he worked to establish both political and business relationships that would return value to the community. He suggested that Ide explain to her government how a partnership with Aspen translates economically.
Aspen Middle School teacher Brandy Keleher said the program is a great way to form relationships outside “our little bubble” in Aspen. As a teacher, she said her goal is to inspire a sense of adventure in every student.
“If you can instill that in them when they’re young, maybe they’ll keep traveling when they get older,” she said. “I think that’s super important, learning about different cultures. (The Kiwi students) are English-speaking, but it’s a really different culture down there and a different mindset, which is cool.”