This year, three of the students to be recognized at Ledyard High School's graduation come from homes far from Ledyard. These are three of the five foreign exchange students that have studied at the school all year. Brought by PAX, the Program of Academic Exchange, they arrived in August and will leave after school ends.
Their time in Ledyard may be drawing to a close, but Debbie Evans, the PAX community coordinator, still has more to do. She is already working to find host families for next year’s foreign exchange students.
For Evans, who has been a host parent herself, it’s an opportunity worth working for, both for the kids and their hosts.
“This is my third year doing this and I’m still in contact with my first,” she said. Her previous guest students still call her on Mother’s Day and holidays. Last summer, she even had the chance to go to Spain to meet the family of one of her “sons.” Bringing one of these students in, she says, is “like having another child in the family.”
In addition to making new ties, it also brings learning experiences. “It’s like having a vacation without leaving Ledyard,” Evans said. “I’ve learned so much from them, and so has everybody.”
The students, too, have had many opportunities to learn. They enrolled in classes for a year, and some even took Advanced Placement classes. Evans said that their English improved during their stay, too.
For some, the exchange program was a stepping-stone to college. Chengqian Che, known as Bruce to his friends, will return in the fall to study Biology at UConn. Another student, Rafael Bauer from Brazil, hopes to study robotics engineering in America.
Even for those who don’t plan to return, this year has provided a wonderful experience. Caroline Calomme, a Belgian student, plans to go to college in Holland for European Law. During her time here, she interned at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, where she translated sources written in Dutch. When she leaves, she will continue the work with the museum from Belgium, helping with research and translation.
Sports also provided an opportunity. Between them, the five exchange students competed in six of the school's sports. “I did football in the fall. I did wrestling in the winter, and lacrosse in the spring,” Bauer said.
Most of the others also played more than one sport. Marcella Rocha from Brazil was even able to see a professional sports game. “I went to Boston on New Year’s Eve, and I went to the Celtics game, too,” she said.
Other opportunities for travel were available. Some went to Quebec with the French class. Others saw Washington, D.C., with their host families or with the music department. Another visitor, Roberto Llop, from Spain, went to Maryland with his Lacrosse team.
Other achievements are a bit less ambitious. "I saw snow for the first time," said Bauer. This winter, he learned to ice skate, play hockey, and go sledding. Evans said he is keeping snowballs frozen to try to bring home with him.
Now that these students are preparing to leave, Evans is trying to find homes for next year’s arrivals. “The students need to be placed before school ends,” she said. “I have four that I’m really trying to get here, but I’m having a hard time finding host families.”
Evans is the only coordinator in the state. She has placed students not only in Ledyard, but also in Groton and Stonington. “East Lyme I’ve tried, but I don’t know families,” she said.
Families interesting in hosting a student can contact Evans at 860 464-9480 or at firstname.lastname@example.org