St. Croix Falls Rotary Club Hosts International Guests

From: The Osceola Sun Newspaper
September 29, 2010
Osceola, WI

One is from Japan, the other from Brazil.

One of this year’s Rotary Club Youth Exchange program students attends St. Croix Falls High School, the other Osceola High School.

Chisato Toda and Guilherme “Mol” Lobo seem to have a lot in common, though. Both of the 16-year-old high school juniors appear intent on pursuing a well-rounded American experience during their 11-month stays with host families in the United States.

Mol has quickly become a key member of Osceola’s varsity soccer team and Chisato has joined the cross country running team at St. Croix Falls. Mol also plans to be a part of the high school swimming and track teams and try a winter snow sport such as skiing.

“I know I will not be very good, but I want to try,” he says about skiing.

One of his hosts, Kirk Otto, calls Mol “a force to be reckoned with” in soccer, which Mol has played all his life. “He may not be intimidating in size, but he is fast. And it’s interesting to watch him control the ball. He’s one of the best ball control kids on the team.”

Otto says “it’s really been helpful for Mol to have these soccer skills.”

Chisato is a member of the yearbook club and plans to join the performance dance line team.

“As a group, they’re very outgoing,” Otto says about Rotary exchange students.

Otto and his wife, Carol, have hosted six exchange students—three from Finland, two from Australia, and now Mol, from Fabricano, Brazil. Otto heads up the exchange student program for the Rotary Club of St. Croix Falls-Taylors Falls, which includes members from Osceola.

LeeAnn Vitalis, director of employee services and human resources at the St. Croix Regional Medical Center in St. Croix Falls, joined the local Rotary club about two years ago.

Chisato, whose home is in Osaka, Japan, is the first exchange student she and her husband, Kris, have hosted.

“I’m getting a lot more out of this than I can ever imagine giving,” Vitalis says. “Being a host mom, I am just delighted to have Chisato. I feel like I’m really blessed.”

With two sons, who soon will turn seven and nine, Vitalis wanted to host a girl.

“I think what’s important is that they have a well-rounded experience,” Vitalis says of the foreign students.

Rotary clubs try to engender that by having the students stay with two or three different host families during their 11 or 12 months away from home.

“It’s much easier to be a host family when it’s just for three or four months,” Otto notes.

There is, of course, a careful selection process for host families.

“Mol’s spent a lot of time with all three of my [adult-age] kids, and their kids—my grandkids,” Otto says. “So they all know him and like him. It’s great. He’s just become part of the family. . . . They’re here to learn what our culture’s all about, so we just make them part of everyday life.”

Otto took Mol and Chisato to the Minnesota State Fair. Vitalis took the pair to the annual Renaissance Festival at Shakopee, MN. It’s fair to say that both events were something of a culture shock to the visitors.

Chisato had her first tent camping experience with the Vitalis family.

Mol has been to the Mall of America, and Chisato to the local Wal-Mart at least a dozen times.

Chisato and Mol both say American food is sweeter than the food they are used to eating back home. Mol found that both pickles and beer jerky are not to his liking.

“The ultimate purpose of this whole thing is just international understanding,” Otto says. “You get to know people from these other countries and other cultures and you’re going to look at the world differently.”

Rotary International’s student exchange program is the largest such program in the world.

“We’ve got kids everywhere,” Otto says.

Mol’s family has hosted several foreign exchange students. In fact, a student from Taiwan is staying at his Brazilian home now.

Chisato’s grandparents currently have a girl from North St. Paul at their house.

A student from here is spending this school year in Switzerland.

“It seems typical of the program for other countries to require that back and forth,” Otto says. “We’re a little bit more random here, whereas overseas, from what I hear, it’s much more ‘you send, you get.’ We typically have plenty of families that want to do it [host students], so it’s not that big a deal.”

Vitalis believes spending time in another country as a months-long resident rather than a short-time tourist makes a big impact on someone’s life.

“I wasn’t a Rotary exchange student,” Vitalis says, “but in college I studied abroad in Australia, and I think that’s one of the best things. The world gets a little bit smaller, and you start to understand people and cultures better. And you can’t go wrong with that.”

Chisato attends the St. Croix Falls High School even though the Vitalis family lives in Taylors Falls.

“The school has been wonderful,” Vitalis says. “The counselor there, Mr. Wilson, is really good.”

Both Chisato and Mol changed their class schedules after the school term began to drop difficult classes and accommodate extracurricular activities.

As Vitalis notes, learning a new subject—United States government, for example—in a new language is difficult.

“It takes a couple of months before their English skills really get up to speed,” Otto says. “But people this age learn really fast. They had a good foundation before they got here, and there’s already a significant difference.”

In Japan students start learning English at the middle school level.

“We don’t learn conversation so much, but we learn writing and reading,” Chisato says.

Otto has had the opportunity to travel to Finland to visit former exchange students he hosted.

“I just love the hospitality we receive when we go visit foreign exchange students back in their home countries,” he says. “It’s a real experience.”

In the role of host, he says, “The first week or so you have your party manners on, then they’re just one of the kids.”

www.osceolasun.com/detail/63063.html

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

Weekly Meetings
The Rotary Club of St. Croix Falls meets every Wednesday at 12:00 PM in the Riverbend Conference Center at the St. Croix Regional Medical Center.
Donation
Follow Us
Twitter
FaceBook
Rotary TV
Rotary Videos