Earlier this year Derek and I were approved to host another foreign exchange student through the Rotary Youth Exchange program. I have to be honest with you that we were both a little nervous after our last experience, but we really believe in the program and the positive effect it has on both the students and for the two of us.
Our student’s name is Michele (Michi) and he is from the Italian island of Sardinia. He had a few rough days when he first got here getting use to Dr. Phillips High School and its 3800 students. Back in Sardinia he had a classroom with 24 other students who stayed in the same room each day. The teachers rotated per period. As each teacher came into the room to teach a subject, Michi and his classmates would stand up to greet them. You can imagine how that went here in Florida on his first day of school. It didn’t take him long though to adapt. He is incredibly smart, kind and funny and before we knew it he had made great friends, joined the swim team and was excelling in his classes.
About a month ago the regional exchange program coordinator and I scheduled a meeting with the Dr. Phillips High school teacher who is in charge of the foreign studies magnet program so that we could discuss how our two programs could support each other. I asked Michi and Lotta (the other exchange student at Dr. Phillips High School) if they would join us for the meeting during their lunch break. When we got to the classroom the teacher asked us to come into her closet where she has a little desk and chairs. I texted Michi the room number and told him that we were in the closet. Unfortunately Michi and Lotta went to the room above us and when they walked into the classroom, Michi asked the teacher if Mark Ramey was there. She asked him who Mark Ramey was and Michi told her that I am his host father and that he thought I was in the closet. She told him that no one was there, but he came back and said “no really, I think he is in the closet.” Needless to say they eventually found us in the room below and I am still laughing about the whole closet thing.
Michi will stay with us until the end of December and then he will be staying with another host family from my Rotary Club for the remainder of the school year. Lotta will be moving from her current host family to stay with us starting in January. In a sort of weird way it is the limited amount of time with each student that makes this program so amazing. You see, when you have a student who is learning English and they ask you what though means, you take the time to figure out how to explain what though means. You question your own language because what does though actually mean? But not just that, when you have a student who will only go to homecoming once in their life, you do everything you can to make it special. When you have a student that will only have an American Thanksgiving dinner once, you do everything you can to make it special. It is the sharing of what it means to be an American that makes being an American so special.
The true gift of the Rotary Youth Exchange program is that even though our time together is limited, each day that we spend with Michi, Lotta and the rest of the exchange students and their host families are extraordinarily special. This is exactly how each day should be, spent as if it is the only special day you have with the people who make you smile the most.
Happy Holidays – Mark Ramey