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Foreign Exchange Students: What do they think about Benzie?

From left to right: Matteo, Basile, Laurits, Linus, Alessandro. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

Photo caption: From left to right: Matteo, Basile, Laurits, Linus, Alessandro. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

Questions & Answers with community faces

On average, Benzie Central High School has hosted more than a dozen students each of the past five years from all over the world—Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, Ecuador, Brazil, South Korea, Thailand, China, and Japan.

Students arrive in late August, just before school begins, and they stay until just after school ends in June. Most students average between 16 and 18 years of age, but they are all considered among the “senior” class, so that they are able to take advantage of fun upperclassmen-only events like prom, senior skip day, and graduation commencement. Every effort is made to ensure that students and host families are matched up based on interests, and many families have enjoyed the program so much that they have hosted four years in a row.

Not only does each student bring his or her own unique culture to share with their native Benzie counterparts, they also bring valuable resources from the state. Per pupil funding allots about $7,500 per student at Benzie Central, and that includes foreign exchange students—that means these students have brought close to $500,000 to Benzie Central since 2012.

Two years ago, The Betsie Current interviewed five female foreign exchange students who were members of the Benzie Central Girls Varsity Soccer team. (Read that article here: bit.ly/1QBPHcQ) This year, we wanted to get the boys’ perspective, so we interviewed: Alessandro, 18, from Italy; Basile, 16, from France; Laurits, 16, from Denmark; Linus, 17, from Norway; Matteo, 17, from Germany.

Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with the boys just prior to their graduation ceremony and asked them to reflect upon their year, before they return home mid-June.

The Betsie Current: Is your hometown bigger or smaller than Benzie?

Alessandro: My hometown is bigger—about 16,000 people.

Basile: Much bigger; 1.2 million inhabitants.

Laurtis: My hometown is called Jonstrup, and it is smaller than Benzie.

Linus: Definitely bigger. We don’t have as much garden space, like most Benzie people do. But, in exchange, we get to interact with neighbors.

Matteo: Bigger; 2 million people.

Current: Besides your host families, what are you going to miss most about Benzie County?

Alessandro: Working out and playing sports every day. Second, all of the friends that I’ve made here.

Basile: Friends. The activities I did while I was here, like playing hockey, fishing, running a lot, watching baseball, playing corn hole, having team dinners [for the soccer, basketball, and track teams].

Laurtis: All my friends, school sports.

Linus: The sports after school are kind of a big deal here, and having sports connected to school is so awesome, because I get to work out every day and not just two or three days, as I would in Norway. It is also a great way to keep all of the American foods—mac & cheese, especially—under control.

Matteo: My friends.

Current: What are you going to miss least about Benzie County?

Alessandro: The weather in Michigan—it is unpredictable most of the time, and the snow in winter killed me. Also, I won’t miss eating sandwiches for lunch every day.

Basile: Country music, and the fact that everything is far away from your house.

Laurtis: Snow.

Linus: The school bus—man, that thing was just torture. Waking up in the middle of the night to get to school is not a thing I am going to miss. I don’t know how people do it for some 180 days in the year. I heard there is room for improvement, and I hope you’ll fix them in the near future.

Matteo: The school food.

Current: Besides your real families, what are you looking forward to most about going home?

Alessandro: Seeing my friends again, having huge parties, and being legally able to drink.

Basile: Seeing my friends, summer holiday with my friends and family, and field hockey. [Editor’s Note: Very humbly, Basile does not like bringing it up it, but we thought that you should know—he began playing field hockey with his brother when he was four years old, and now he is several times a national champion back in France. He is not on the national team yet, but it is one of his future goals.]

Laurtis: Seeing my friends again.

Linus: Watching the sun set from a beach with my friends, then staying up all night to watch it come up again. “Døgne,” that’s what we call it.

Matteo: My healthy food.

Current: What is your favorite memory from your time here?

Alessandro: Pitching in a very close and tense conference game against Onekama—I screamed and threw my glove when I struck out the last guy and we tied. That was awesome.

Basile: Going to the regional finals [with the Benzie Central Boys Varsity Soccer soccer team last fall]. Going downstate for a Griffins game [in Grand Rapids] and a Tigers game [in Detroit]. Going to Puerto Rico with my host family for spring break.

Laurtis: Winning the district and going on to the regional final with the soccer team.

Linus: The Chicago trip was pretty awesome. [Any junior or senior taking Mr. Scott Kubit’s World History class can go on a 4-day trip to Chicago to visit museums, the aquarium, attend baseball games, etc.]

Matteo: That I joined a few sports and had an awesome team. I played soccer in the fall, and I ran track in the spring.

Current: What was the biggest surprise about America?

Alessandro: Taco Bell—man that stuff is good.

Basile: School is not very hard, and the teachers are really friendly.

Laurtis: How great Taco Bell is, and how awful country music is.

Linus: The variety—this country is huge. One second, you are walking alongside towering skyscrapers, and the next one, you are out in the wilderness, up in a tree stand.

Matteo: How wonderful Taco Bell is.

Current: How did Benzie fit or not fit the stereotype about America?

Alessandro: People listen to country music too much—that’s the normal stereotype that we have, and that definitely fits very well.

Basile: I would say that the stereotype of Americans eating a lot of fast-food is definitely correct in Benzie, and people driving big trucks. And being very good in sports.

Laurtis: Benzie fits and doesn’t fit in some ways. I never would have thought of soccer even being a thing at an American school, but, here at Benzie, it’s pretty popular.

Linus: “Everybody listens to country music” is a stereotype that definitely fits the glove.

Matteo: High-calorie foods.

Current: What is going to be hardest for you to explain to your friends back home about your time here?

Alessandro: How this experience changed my life and my personality. How different social interactions are here.

Basile: How friendly people are when you’re a foreigner, and how outgoing they are when you meet them.

Laurtis: How awesome Taco Bell is, and how awful country music is.

Linus: Trump winning the presidential election.

Matteo: School sports with the team. [In Germany and other countries where our foreign exchange students come from, participation in sports is limited to clubs; there are very few, if any, school-sponsored sports.]

If you are interested in hosting a student for the upcoming 2017-18 school year at Benzie Central or Frankfort, contact Ann Burkett at bigmissy37@yahoo.com or call 231-690-0513. To learn more about the program, Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA), visit cetusa.org online.

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