Trip to Brazil provides perspective

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— Summer Laws and Riley Polumbus spent a month 6,000 miles from home, but the two Steamboat Springs residents say they didn't feel like tourists during their stay in Brazil.

The two young professionals were participating in an exchange program sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club.

"It wasn't anything like being a tourist. We were living with families, eating in their homes and living by their schedule," said Laws, who took time off from her job as executive director of Comunidad Integrada. "I felt like I really got to know the culture."

Laws, along with Polumbus, who is the communications director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, returned in late May.

The annual trip is paid for by Rotary and is geared toward people in the early years of their careers. Rotary clubs around the world participate in the exchange programs. Since 1967, more than 40,000 people have participated in the program, Steamboat Springs Rotarian Jim Steinberg said.

As part of the local ex-

change, five Brazilians came to Steamboat last month and met with locals who have similar jobs. They also had time to play in the snow, visit local watering holes and shop downtown.

Polumbus said she was most impressed with the people she met in Brazil.

"They're very open people, which made it the ideal climate for an exchange," said Polumbus, who stayed with seven families during her trip.

In Steamboat, Laws helps promote and support the successful integration of the immigrant community. She visited with representatives from the Catholic Church and nonprofit organizations in Brazil. She has traveled extensively and has lived in Mexico and Chile. Laws said the Brazilian exchange is the best trip she's taken.

"I have a better understanding of Latin American culture, and with the people I work with, that's really important," Laws said.

Laws and Polumbus stayed in the city of Rio Grande do Sul in southwestern Brazil.

Polumbus said the people in that part of the country have an appreciation for their history and agricultural heritage that reminded her of Steamboat.

"Everyone who lives there is connected both physically and emotionally to the land," Polumbus said. "This shared pride in the land translates into some of the same goals that Routt County is trying to achieve."

The region is trying to promote tourism in similar ways to Steamboat in terms of cultural heritage and rural tourism, she said.

Polumbus also was able to visit Argentina, where she toured Steamboat's sister city, San Martin de los Andes. She said she was inspired to strengthen the sister city program.

Laws and Polumbus enjoy sharing their experiences with local Rotarians and other groups about their trip.

"I knew very little about Rotary before this experience, and I am extremely impressed with what this club is able to do," Polumbus said. "Both locally and internationally, Rotarians do an amazing amount of work, and this program is only one part of it."

Next year, Rotary will sponsor an exchange with New Zealand.

"I encourage anyone who had the chance to do it, and I encourage any employer who is on the fence about letting someone go, to let them go," Polumbus said.

-- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com.

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