Alp Bilek, Jules Chesneau and Jorge Rodriguez. Photos by Ray Still

Exchange students gravitate to Sumner swim

They came from all corners of the world to attend Sumner High School.

Alp Bilek hails from Turkey, Jules Chesneau from France and Jorge Rodriguez from Spain.

They all came separately in a foreign exchange student program, but one way or another, all ended up swimming with the Sumner Spartans.

Maari Bennett, the Sumner boys swim coach, said these three students bring a lot of culture and energy to the swim team.

Part of it, she said, was that they’re not career swimmers, but many of the boys who have been with the team for a while are more than happy to give them tips and tricks for how to improve in the water.

Bilek, 18, said he joined the team to make some friends, adding that he’s an avid soccer player and plans to try out for the boys team in the spring.

Chesneau, 17, is big on sports, and played on the football team in the fall and tried out for the basketball team in the winter, but didn’t make the cut, so to stay active, he decided to take up swimming.

“I wanted to meet more people and do something after school, and swimming interested me a lot,” he said.

Rodriguez, 15, said he used to swim a lot back in Spain, but was self-conscious about his form, so decided to try and improve on it while being competitive at the same time.

With each student calling a different part of the world home, they’re each learning to love the American lifestyle, but also miss parts of their own country.

“I miss my food,” Bilek said, adding that he took his host mother to a Turkish restaurant that was pretty good.

His favorite food are kebabs, which he said is hard to find locally, but “I found some in Seattle, which was so cool. I went there last Sunday, and again Monday,” he said, laughing.

Rodriguez said he missed some of the small traditions he used to do with his friends and family in Spain, like around New Years.

“There is a huge bell in Madrid, and all the channels record that. And every time it rings, you eat a grape,” he said.

Rodriguez said he’s never liked grapes, so instead, his mother would buy him small oranges.

“But up here, the oranges were this big,” he said, making a large circle with his hands. “And I could only eat, like, four or five.”

Rodriguez also said he missed celebrating Epiphany, which is when the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem 12 days after Christmas (on Jan. 6).

One thing that struck all three students was how school worked in America.

Each said that most often, school and sports are separate. Only Rodriguez played on a school sports team, but said that his friends that go to different schools don’t have school teams.

Chesneau had a similar experience in France.

“In school, we just work. We don’t have extra sports in school,” he said. “And here, there is a lot of things around school, like sports, P.E., assemblies — we never have this in France.”

For Bilek, he really enjoys moving between classrooms and going to different classrooms.

“In Turkey, you stay in the class and the teacher changes,” he said. “I like moving around better.”

In many ways, Bilek, Chesneau and Rodriguez are experiencing America differently, but they all were able to agree on one thing —Washington weather.

“It rains a lot,” they all said.

Editor’s note: In the printed story, Bilek’s name was incorrectly printed as Alperen Birek. His correct name, Alp Bilek, has been corrected in the online version.