He lived the life of a quasi-celebrity, surrounded by awed schoolchildren.
He was able to travel the world for the first time in his life, as a teenager without family.
Last, but not least, Chase Regehr learned a few nuggets of wisdom during his weeklong excursion to Taiwan earlier this month: Fried chicken from the small Asian island is far superior to anything he’s tasted in America; their farms are radically different — and smaller — than their American counterparts; and those unfamiliar with the delicacy should politely decline if offered a plate of stinky tofu.
REGEHR, 18, a senior at Iola High School, was one of three Kansans selected to participate in a long-standing student exchange program to learn about Taiwan’s agricultural industry and how Kansas exports benefit both Kansas and Taiwan.
His selection by the Kansas Department of Agriculture was based on his successful application back in mid-October.
“I thought it’d be fun to go,” Regehr said. “I thought it’d be fun to get out of the country at least once during my senior year.”
That said, he applied with little hopes of earning a spot on the exchange team.
That’s because the trip is available only to high school seniors and college freshmen. In fact, the other two selected from Kansas were in college.
“I just figured some kid from K-State would be chosen over me,” he said.
Instead, Regehr’s acceptance letter arrived via email the evening of Oct. 27, just hours after a stinging football loss to Girard, in which Iola came two points shy of winning a district title for the first time since the 1980s.
The acceptance letter helped ease the pain of the gridiron loss, eventually, he admitted.
“At first, I was just in shock,” Regehr said.
THE TRIP was riddled with firsts.
While Regehr had flown once before with his family to Washington, D.C., the Dec. 4 flight from Kansas City to San Francisco, then across nearly 6,500 miles of the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan was his first international trip.
“And it was also my first time on a 747,” he said.
His travel group — small delegations from Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska — met up in San Francisco for their transcontinental flight.
Their arrival at Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei precipitated a whirlwind week filled with trips to area schools, farms, businesses and marketplaces, sightseeing and other activities.
The students began with a quick tour around the capital, including a visit with Douglas Hsu, deputy North American affairs director with Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry; a visit to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a national monument to the former Taiwanese president (which looked something like the Lincoln Memorial built within the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., Regehr said); and finally a visit in the afternoon to the Green Vines Growing Sprouts, an ag business in Taiwan that grows — you guessed it — organic sprouts.
The production was radically different than anything farmers produce in America, Regehr noted, chiefly because the sprouts are grown indoors via hydroponic (water-based) farming.
And their crops, such as alfalfa, are harvested within days of first emerging from their growing trays.
Hydroponic farming is popular in places such as Taiwan, Regehr explained, because the environment is strictly controlled — farms are indoors — and other variables such as air pressure, humidity levels and heat can be controlled.
“They gave us sprouts to try,” he said. “I had alfalfa, sunflower, peas and buckwheat. I liked them all, honestly.”