By Bill DeFrance
— I have shared with you that our family hosted an exchange student son from Spain. While we had hosted girls from France, Germany and Denmark when our daughters were younger, close to two decades had passed since we had teenagers in the house.
Alex has been gone over six weeks now, but I thought I would share some thoughts about his final chapter with us in Eaton Rapids. Alex willingly contributed to articles, especially in the taking of pictures.
As each of his foreign exchange friends here and from around the country left, he had a sense of urgency to get home. Having no face-to face contact with teenagers plus the concern over family back in Spain made it quite stressful for him, especially when Alex had little control over the details of his return trip.
Spanish school is more traditional in its course offerings than American school. Sports are played for clubs not on high school teams. Classes like drama, metals and woodworking, publishing for yearbook and newspaper, gym and art are not course offerings for him back home. To that point, we wanted to thank Holly Ferguson and Larry Ott for integrating Alex into our spring musical (which unfortunately never was performed). Alex was also was on the bowling team, a shout out to Ned Palmer for his patience and coaching.
Since Alex could not drive, he relied on others. Emma and Kenzie helped get him to school and bowling; he particularly enjoyed the youth group at Emma’s church.
U.S history was a requirement for him to take. As host parents, it was interesting to see what gets emphasized by educators about our heritage. It was fun to have discussions and make comparisons between the U.S. and Spain, which has more history and as much intrigue as the U.S. does.
Since he slept in too close to school start time and did not like school lunches, Alex really enjoyed our dinners. We came to have dinner in the dining room as our daily update for here and back home in Spain.
Nancy and I got to be parents and consumers of Eaton Rapids High School (ERHS). We were quite pleased with how Alex was treated and taught. In essence, all foreign exchange students (ERHS had five) are ESL (English as a Second Language) students. With varying abilities to speak and comprehend English, each student has his or her own set of literacy challenges.
Given how school and socializing here have played out, leaving quickly would have been the right answer. Alex returned to Spain through the Lansing airport on a trip that was close to 24 hours to get to Barcelona. He returned to a family in isolation and to school being offered virtually. But at least, he was home.
I write this as we enter week nine of staying home from school. Teachers are telling me about how happy kids are to visit with one another virtually. And “visit and “see” are the key words. Nancy and I recognized by day two of the stay at home isolation that host parents cannot provide the engagement with others and the teaching that school provides for a teenager.
My guess is most parents have recognized this. I miss the teenager, and I miss school.
Alex (right) is shown with other exchange students at Eaton Rapids High School this year.