On a recent sunny day in Carroll, four college students picked up gum wrappers, scraps of paper and other trash around the Carroll Recreation Center and Carroll Athletic Field, chattering in Estonian all the while.
Hailing from the small Northern European country of Estonia, the students are spending the summer in the United States to complete an internship with Nashville-based Southwestern Advantage. As part of the program, students complete service projects, often looking for endeavors that protect the environment, with these four choosing to help out in Carroll.
They included Elizabeth Truve, 22, who just completed a bachelor’s degree in economics; Hanna Heinloo, 20, studying informatics; Olev Kork, 22, studying physical education; and Karl Eduard Moldre, 22, studying economics. Based in various areas, including Ames and Storm Lake, they’ve also visited Denison and Jefferson.
“The community here (in Iowa) is super nice,” said Moldre, who also has been to California. “I love it.”
Estonia has a population of a little more than 1 million — a third of Iowa’s.
“If you know us, you know half the nation,” Struve joked.
For an hour on a Sunday earlier this month, the four students — decked out in blue sunglasses imprinted with the words, “The harder I work … the luckier I get,” as well as bright yellow safety vests and rubber gloves provided by Carroll Parks and Recreation Director Jack Wardell — filled trash bags with litter they gathered from around the rec center and stadium.
Southwestern Advantage culls students from around the world and places them in various cities throughout the United States and Canada, in part to market and sell educational materials, including tutoring books for parents that cover a wide variety of subjects as well as SAT and ACT preparation materials.
“(The materials) get kids excited about learning,” said Truve, who is in her third year with the program. “It’s a character-building program for us; it’s not easy. We get a lot of rejection, going door to door. But it’s awesome.”
The materials help with core math, all areas of science, college preparation and more.
“Kids ask tons of questions, like, ‘Why, why, why?’” Truve said.
For instance: Why are flamingos pink?
It’s because of all the shrimp they eat, she revealed. Kids learn that and much more in the educational materials the visiting students sell.
Overall, about 1,600 students from a variety of countries have been placed in 40 states and Canada through Southwestern Advantage; about 26 students of them were placed in Iowa, Truve said.
“We love Iowa people,” she said. “They are very friendly.”
The “Iowa nice” sentiment extends even to the door-to-door book sales the students conduct, whether families choose to buy or not.
“Every third house, they offer me food,” Heinloo said.
After they filled their trash bags, the students couldn’t resist shucking their safety vests and shoes for a breakneck race across the stadium — with the winner crossing the finish line first by only a few feet.
“It’s very nice,” Wardell said of the students’ desire to clean recreation areas in Carroll. “We appreciate the efforts of people who want to volunteer to help beautify the community.”
He added that the Parks and Recreation department is looking into a large-scale city cleanup project next year, involving volunteers and local businesses.
On that Sunday, as these four picked up trash in Carroll, all of the program’s students were completing service projects around the country.
“It’s cool to give back something for the local environment and local people,” Truve said. “Local people help us, so we want to help them.”