I would love to nominate my exchange student for “student of the month.” With his big smile, and friendly, happy, courteous demeanor, Tomas from the Czech Republic is a perfect example of an ambassador for his home country. He makes friends and interacts easily with everyone, both young and old, and is always ready to help those in need. Information about his home country is always shared and he absorbs our culture like a sponge.
Being a widowed senior living alone I thought it would be nice to have a child in the house. Friends warned me that I may be taking on too much at my age. Having a few health issues, they thought it would be too much work for me. If it were a small child, they would be correct but children in their teens are old enough to prepare their own dinner (if necessary), are at school all day and do not require constant care that a young child would need. I am living in a house with unoccupied bedrooms and bathrooms so space was not an issue. Most senior homeowners are in the same position.
Since Tomas arrived, we have shared a multitude of events and activities. My children are all age 50 and over but they have visited and shared time with him also. I also have a small dog named Kobe. He and Kobe are very attached with one another and Tomas helps care for him.
He is very interested in government, history and politics and has participated in many school activities and field trips involving these interests. On one of these trips, he visited the Missouri state capitol while government was in session. Tomas has also visited Six Flags theme park with one of my sons and gone to the St. Louis Science Center with another relative during an event called “Body World” that was a scientific study of the human body and he enjoyed it very much.
He played football at our high school, something that he really wanted since football is not played in his home country. He had the opportunity to be at all the games, both home and away. The faculty and staff have been impressed by the way he represents himself, his home country, and the student exchange program. The high school also gives the foreign exchange students the opportunity to experience senior class events even if they are not seniors, and so Tomas and his date attended the Senior Prom. Tomas also attends Air Force ROTC classes at the local high school. This gives him the opportunity to do many things, including go on field trips. Since he has no men in his family, he has really enjoyed not only this cultural exposure of the ROTC but the “guy” time with his male instructors and other students. He also had the chance to attend the ROTC Military Ball.
Tomas took advantage of a fall International festival in St. Louis showcasing food, dance and arts and crafts from around the world. There is also a Czech community in St. Louis with a large social hall named Czech Hall. I took him and another exchange student and they had a wonderful time. Tomas interacted with the older adults and learned how some of them had immigrated to St. Louis from their home country. He also saw the original Czech Church and Czech School. While at this event, he represented the exchange program in the best manner possible.
He and a friend also experienced Amish country through a visit with me to the Arcola, Illinois, area. We stayed the night there and then drove to Springfield the following day. While there he had the opportunity to see the office, home and tomb of President Lincoln. Being very interested in history and politics, it was a perfect trip for him. Tomas interacted with the staff, explaining that he was an exchange student and why their knowledge was important to him both now and in the future. On the way home from Springfield, we stopped at a farm where he picked his own pumpkin for Halloween. I am a military widow, so we also stopped by Scott Air Force Base so he could see some Air Force planes. Both Tomas and his friend considered this a treat.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent in the typical American way with family and friends, and during school break between Christmas and New Year's my son and I took Tomas to New Orleans for a cultural experience. We went on a swamp tour, visited Mardi Gras World to see parade floats and watch artisans making new floats. He also experienced a lot of different foods (Cajun, Creole, Po’ Boys, seafood, etc.) and watched street performers. He bought t-shirts for all his family. Before returning home, we took him to the beach so he could see the Gulf of Mexico. One of the things that greatly interested him was the difference between the vegetation and landscape. This trip made him realize how different parts of the United States can be. Twice he has visited Meramec Caverns here in Missouri, as well as the St. Louis Arch.
Finally, in the spring a bad tornado touched down in Harrisburg, Illinois. Loss of human life and serious destruction occurred as a result of this tornado and help was needed. Mike Peterson, husband of our regional director Barbara Peterson, took Tomas and the other exchange students to Harrisburg to assist in cleanup. It gave the students a serious look at why community service is so important.
Tomas has been so active since arriving that I am sure I have forgotten many of his experiences and achievements. Being a happy, friendly, polite young man, he is very popular and always has friends to do things with, even if there are no children in my house. He loves being my only child. Hosting Tomas was a great plus in my life. During this past year, he has enabled me to be more active, have the pleasure of not living alone, and have someone to share meals with me. He is very helpful and always wants to help me out in any way possible. I did not expect him to do housework, but at my age it is great having him help out here and there.
As for the many senior citizens here in the U.S., if you are living alone and lonely, and have the space, I highly recommend hosting an exchange student. It will change your life, as Tomas did mine.
Alberta (Bernie) Jones