Youth, families share culture

WILLSBORO - A program that gives overseas youth the opportunity to experience America is in need of more volunteers in Willsboro.

The American Councils, a program run through the U.S. State Department, offers highly motivated teens from parts of Europe, Asia and South America the chance to study in the United States for a year.

Charlie Lustig, a teacher a Plattsburgh High School and resident of Willsboro, has been a coordinator of the program in this area for five years. During that time, he's been able to facilitate the visits of a dozen students, mostly from former Soviet nations.

One of those students, Marco Bekcac, returned to the area this summer to spend time with his American friends. A native of Serbia, Bekcac spent his sophomore year at Willsboro Central School where he devoted time to both academics and athletics.

"I did everything; soccer, basketball, rugby," he said. "I made a lot of friends here."

Bekcac said he was excited when he first learned about his acceptance into the American Councils program, which is known for being highly selective. Students must demonstrate english proficiency, academic performance and maturity to participate. If chosen, they receive a scholarship that pays for their travel, school enrollment, and a small monthly stipend.

"These kids are like the cream of the crop in their countries," said Wanda McKenna, whose family hosted Bekcac during the 2007-2008 school year. "They're a joy to have around."

McKenna said the decision to be a host family was rather spontaneous, but one she is glad to have made.

"It was a fantastic experience," she said. "He just fit right into our family. We could not have had a better match than Marco."

During his time here, Bekcac experienced some aspects of American culture that were previously foreign to him, like traditions surrounding Christmas and Halloween.

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