When a young person makes that first long sojourn away from home, it's often a challenge to know what to bring along.
But it always makes sense to bring an appetite.
Leayra Thornton, 25, is one of two dozen citizen delegates from Bega, Australia, who will be calling Littleton home for the next 10 days. The delegation is the 11th to travel between the two cities, which share the oldest sister-city relationship between the two countries.
For Thornton, who was able to experience San Francisco with the group members briefly before they arrived Aug. 15 for their 10-day stay in Littleton, her first trip the States has been an eye-opening experience.
“There’s so many different cultures here,” Thorn said. “The food — I want to try all the local produce.”
The mother of two from Littleton’s sister city on Australia's southeast coast attends culinary school back home. She was nominated by the chef she apprentices under to travel the 9,000 miles (or 14,000 kilometers, as far as Thornton is concerned) to see what American cuisine and culture had to offer.
“I was a little nervous, but I thought it was just such a great opportunity. I couldn’t have afforded to do this on my own,” Thornton said. “I can’t wait to tell my kids all about it.”
Thornton’s trip was paid for by money raised by the two cities’ representatives. The money isn’t raised to continue a bond for political reasons, but to foster a friendship that extends back to the first trip in the 1960s.
“When you visit somewhere, it’s never the same when you go back. It’s not like that here,” said Barb Westmacott, president of the Bega group. “It’s always great. It never disappoints.”
Westmacott and her counterpart in Littleton, Elfi Smith, both said the group’s gatherings are more akin to a family reunion than anything else.
“These trips bring us so much closer together,” Smith said. “I know the experience of staying with a family in a distant continent like Australia and experiencing their life.”
Westmacott said that, unlike visiting another country as a tourist, staying in a home and sharing a family's lives provide the full cultural experience. When she hosted a guest family 13 years ago at her home in Bega, she didn’t know what to expect from her American guests.
“Like any country, they have a preconceived notion of what an Aussie or a Yank is,” Westmacott said. “I can honestly say, by the end of the first day, we knew we’d be life-long friends.”
Yet some cultural barriers remain despite the years of friendship.
“I can’t understand your football,” said Westmacott, whose family supports the Denver Broncos. “There’s too many rests and too much protection.”
Learn about your sister city
If you would like to shatter any preconceived notions about Australia, the youngest member of the Australian delegation, Kirsty MacKinnon, 17, will be giving the presentation about Bega that won her a spot on the trip to Littleton’s City Council at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.