Oktoberfest: A whole lotta fun going on
By: Alex Zener
Sept 27, 2008
Einz, zwei, drei—suffa! If you don’t recognize the timeless German invocation, literally “One, two, three—down the hatch!,” you’ve missed out on a whole lotta fun.

It’s not too late to catch up, though.

This year’s 35th annual Way Out West Oktoberfest, coming Oct. 3-5, promises to deliver a full weekend of live entertainment, booths, food and, of course, plenty of opportunity to sing—and drink—a toast to one of the Valley’s premier celebrations.

Tempe’s Oktoberfest, held at Tempe Town Lake, is for everyone. Families and individuals, young and old, can listen and dance to a wide variety of genres of music—don’t forget the polka—go on rides, enjoy games and sample food including brats, hamburgers and other delicacies from around the world.

In other words, it’s fun for the whole family or a group of friends. Or maybe even a date.

Best of all, the proceeds will help fund Tempe’s longtime award-winning Sister City program, which has given hundreds of local students and their counterparts around the world a chance to experience life in another country.

According to event organizers, Oktoberfest is Sister Cities’ most important fund-raiser of the year.

“Oktoberfest is a fun, family experience that truly makes this remarkable program able to exist,” said Eileen Long, who has been involved in the program since 2004.

“The money raised allows for all 28 delegates and three teacher delegates, who are lucky enough to be selected, to take part in an exchange program with all expenses paid.”

Since 1971, funding for more than 140 educator exchanges, 365 school-to-school students, 53 practical exchanges and 613 student exchange delegates has been generated by the event.

Sister Cities, notes Long, provides an opportunity to learn first hand what it’s like to live in another country, exemplified through the motto “Bringing the World together One Friendship at a Time.”

Caitlin Long, a 2007 Corona del Sol student delegate in the Tempe Sister Cities Exchange Program in Regensburg, Germany, described her experience as life-altering:

“It was the single best experience I have yet had thus far in life. I learned so much about myself and the world, and have made incredible friendships in so many countries that I will always treasure.”

Maycie Thornton, a 2005 student delegate, agreed.

”I learned that across the Atlantic Ocean are people just like me. I felt like Lena, my exchange sister, was like my counterpart living in Germany.”

The Tempe Sister City program every year selects 28 students to participate in the exchange experience, which involves living in the homes of foreign students in all six of Tempe’s sister cities.

To qualify, the student must be a junior and live in Tempe. Attendance at a Tempe high schools, however, is not required.

“Additionally, we are looking for students that are well rounded, adaptable, social and who display good leadership qualities,” said Eileen Long, a former teacher delegate and member of the selection committee.

“We are really looking for delegates that emulate the qualities that we want the world to associate with America.”

“It is important to note that hosting a student for five weeks in the summer is part of the exchange program as well as having your child live for five weeks with that student in their home,” said Long.

Applications are available online at the Tempe Sister Cities website, http://www.tempesistercity.org, and will be available in Tempe high schools in a few weeks. Applications are due Dec. 5. The interviewing and selection process runs January through March.

Three teacher delegates are selected each year to participate in the program. Eileen Long was selected for an Educator Exchange in 2004.

“I traveled to Germany with three other Tempe teachers and experienced German schools and classrooms firsthand which was a tremendous learning experience,” said Eileen Long. “I then had a teacher, Volker Frank, stay with my family for three weeks and visit our high schools in Tempe.”

It is important to note that the Tempe Sister City organization is not just about student delegates. Parents and families, who initially participate because of the involvement of a son or daughter, continue to find themselves years later involved in Tempe’s Oktoberfest and in the Sister City program.

“Parental involvement is huge in the program,” said Angie Thornton, who has had two children selected as student delegates.

“We are very busy during the summer of the exchange. We fund-raise and, with the help of a summer coordinator, run the activities for our delegates and their brothers and sisters from abroad.

“We do a wide range of activities: We go to the Grand Canyon, California and host many dinners and parties. We even have a prom! It is the best way to spend a summer.”

Past delegates who can’t seem to stay away include Christina Salhuana, a student delegate to Germany in 2005; Nick Salhuana, a delegate to France in 2008; Mitchell DeGraff, a delegate to New Zealand in 2008; Katie Morrison, a delegate to France in 2007, along with Katherine Smith and Jennifer Johnson, who also was a delegate to New Zealand in 1986.
Also included are 2007 student delegates Colby Thornton, Paige Kroeger and Chelsea McDonnell.

Student delegates and their families continue reaping the benefits of the Tempe Sister City program years after they finish the program, say those who have participated.

“I learned that people around the world are all very much the same. Just because people speak a different language, or live in a different country, doesn't mean they are different,” said Maycie Thornton.

“I also learned that there is so much more to the world than I had ever realized. Going on the exchange gave me the desire travel around the world meeting people from different backgrounds and learning more about other cultures and myself.

“I would tell anyone who is considering applying for the Sister cities program to definitely do it,” she said.
Angie Thornton expressed similar sentiments.

“As a family we have been enriched by the experiences we have had. We have made lifelong friends with our exchange kids and their families. We have also made the best of friends with families in the Tempe program. We are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be involved in Tempe Sister Cities.”

Funds raised at Oktoberfest not only support award-winning student and educator exchanges, but notable humanitarian efforts as well, including seven wells in Timbuktu and medical supplies for Iraq and Timbuktu through Project C.U.R.E.
In addition, the program provided wheelchairs to Timbuktu, Mali; Zhenjiang, China; and Skopje, Macedonia.
Oktoberfest runs 5 p.m. to midnight Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Admission if free but you’ll need to purchase tickets for rides, food and drinks.

More information about Tempe’s Oktoberfest activities and the Tempe Sister organization, including a helpful list of “frequently asked questions,” can be found at http://www.tempesistercity.org/Oktoberfest/



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