CRESTVIEW — It’s one thing to burrow into history books to learn about the past. It’s another to help recreate what historical periods were like.
Rollin Cluff, a dual-enrolled Northwest Florida State College, University of West Florida and home-schooled high school senior, will plunge headlong into centuries of history when he joins the Crestview Area Sister City Program’s visit to Noirmoutier next month. h
Rollin, 18, is also a history buff and Civil War re-enactor. He'll have the chance to experience firsthand a whole new culture through a home-stay with a Noirmoutrin host family.
“I am really excited about going to France,” Rollin said. “I want to learn about the culture, meet the people and learn everything they do.”
Rollin’s journey also marks a new experience for the Sister City Program. He is the first recipient of the 23-year-old organization’s student travel fellowship, a new program, still being developed, that will partially fund deserving students’ airfare to Noirmoutier.
Actually, Rollin is something of a guinea pig. The Sister City Program’s scheduled Sept. 7-18 trip was a perfect vehicle to test how the travel fellowship program will work.
Rollin met the basic criteria organizers would like for fellowship winners — an enthusiasm for history, interest in Crestview’s relationship with Noirmoutier, a willingness to pitch in at local Sister City events, a financial need, and an open mind willing to accept new cultural experiences.
“We may not have the details of the fellowship program ironed out yet, but we know just what kind of student we want to see be its benefactor,” Crestview Area Sister City Program President Brian Hughes said. “Rollin perfectly fit the bill, plus he has met some of the Noirmoutier Sister City people during their October 2016 visit to Crestview.”
To see how the program will work, the Sister City group contributed $500 (raised during last fall’s Wine Gala) toward Rollin’s airfare. A Sister City member donated the additional $200 to cover the balance.
Other members quickly contributed nearly another $400, which covers Rollin’s train tickets, hotel rooms and other expenses. The Noirmoutier Sister City Committee contributed nearly $250 so Rollin could visit the Puy du Fou historic park with the group.
“At first I felt a little confused,” Rollin said. “Why me? I wasn’t expecting this. Then I got excited because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Who knows when I’ll be able to go back to Europe?”
Rollin is already making plans to give back to both the Crestview and Noirmoutier communities for making the trip possible. He has prepared a PowerPoint slide show as an introduction of himself and his varied activities when he visits English classes in Noirmoutier’s two junior high schools.
During his time on the island, some of which will be spent on his laptop taking online college classes and doing homework, Rollin will also meet with the 21 Noirmoutrin students coming to Crestview in October 2018 and answer questions about their planned experience in Northwest Florida.
Then, when he returns home, Rollin’s experiences in France will be a topic of an illustrated discussion for Crestview High School’s Sister City Ambassadors student club, many of the members of which hope to follow in Rollin’s footsteps and experience Noirmoutier’s history, culture and hospitality themselves.
“I am extremely grateful for this chance,” Rollin said. “I don’t know how I can thank all the people who made it happen. I want to do my best to show them this opportunity for me wasn’t a waste of their money.”