In her late 20s, Graciela Fuentes de Bedoya and her husband, Eduardo, visited the United States for the first time as part of the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship.
“Definitely it changed my life,” she said. “We fell in love with the U.S. When I came back to Peru, I had to do something to help other Peruvians have the same opportunity.”
She returned to her homeland to direct the North American Cultural Institute in Arequipa, where she became friends with American diplomat Guy W. Farmer, who now lives in Carson City. At the same time, she founded the Arequipa Sister Sisters Committee with Charlotte, N.C., to foster a student exchange program.
For the last 14 years, Fuentes, 77, has run the Programa de Intercambio Cultural Educativo — or the Cultural Exchange Program — a work and travel program.
“Students from Peru come to the United States to absorb the culture, earn some money and especially to learn your values and experiences,” she said. “It’s a bridge between our country, Peru, and the wonderful North America.”
The couple is in Carson City this week, visiting Farmer, whom they have kept in contact with over the years. While here, they met with Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, and spoke with chamber members about their upcoming trip to Peru.
They also hope to promote the work program —which helps provide successful college students in Peru with the necessary work visas — to nearby ski resorts and casinos.
“My students would love to come and work at the resorts and in the hospitality business,” Fuentes said. “The would work in housekeeping or lift operators, any employment.”
The students, who come on a J1 visa, typically stay for about six months before returning home. While it is a great opportunity, she said, students also face obstacles with learning a new language and culture.
“They have to be brave,” she said. “If you are not brave and you are not adventurous, it’s not for you.”
She said the program can help to foster an understanding between the two nations, and open the minds of young people.
“They come back and say it was the opportunity of my life,” she said.