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A New Year Begins In August

Story ID:5295
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Manhattan Kansas USA
Year:2009
Person:Tomas
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A New Year Begins In August

A New Year Begins In August

A New Year Begins In August

A New Year Begins In August

A New Year Begins In August

A New Year Begins in August

Most people begin the new year on January 1st, but our year as an American Host Family begins in mid-August. Ken and I have helped host Czech Exchange students who come to Kansas State University for the past ten years. A woman at our church sparked our interest in the program, and when we asked if we might host only Czech students, she said yes.

We requested Czech students because of our good friend, Joe, who is also known as the Baron Joseph Barton-Dobenin. You may have read stories about him here at OurEcho. One is “Joe’s Castle” and the other is “A True Fairy Tale” Joe began the Exchange program between Kansas State and two universities in Prague. His generosity has afforded a golden opportunity to many young Czechs for study and travel in the United States.

We work in affiliation with an organization on campus called Helping International Students (HIS). HIS is aided by people in several Christian churches in our community. Many of the International students are either of a different faith or have no religious affiliation at all. It is not the group’s intent to convert any of them to Christianity. Instead, it is a way to show them what Christians do, the way they live, and the values they hold. Perhaps it is also way to sow a seed that may come to fruition many years from now.

Tomas was our first student. I picked him up at his dorm on a hot afternoon in August. Ken was out of town and so, it was Tomas and me. I watched as this very tall, slim young man with a smile as big as Texas slid into the car. As he put out his hand and introduced himself, I knew we would enjoy getting to know him. We went to a Welcome Picnic for International Students that day, and as we stood in line for hot dogs, potato salad and beans, we chatted.

When we got to the large pan of baked beans laced with bacon, I asked him if he was familiar with this food. His eyes lit up, and he said, “These are what the cowboys ate. Right?” After the first bite, he put them on his list of favorite foods. I introduced him to other foods he hadn’t tried before and have done so with other students through the years.

Tomas came to our home for dinner many times, watched Sunday football with us, and kept in touch through the week via e-mail. He wanted to learn the rules of American football, and in one afternoon, he acquired enough to follow and enjoy the games. The year flew by, and our final time together here in Kansas, we took him to Abilene to tour the Eisenhower Presidential Museum, Boyhood Home, Library and Chapel. The whole place fascinated him, and he thoroughly enjoyed the chicken dinner we had at a place famous for fried chicken and all the fixin’s. Saying good-bye turned out to be more difficult than I’d expected. Happily, we have kept in touch and have even had the opportunity to visit him in Prague a few years ago.

There were others in successive years. We’ve had three Jana’s, a Klara, a Tereza, Ondra, Annamaria, Jan, Martin, Jiri, Gabe and more. Hours spent around our dinner table have helped us bond with each one of them. Thanks to the ease of e-mail, many have kept in touch with us after they return home to continue their studies. All have expressed to us that the year at K-State, living in Manhattan, Kansas, and traveling all over the USA during vacation times ranks high on their list of best things ever.

Young people in other countries read newspapers, hear the media and form an opinion about our country that may be somewhat negative. By joining an exchange program like this one, they come to know the people, get to see the vast expanse of our country with its many different kinds of regions, and understand how our system works. They improve their English and make friends they’ll keep for a lifetime. They learn how we celebrate various holidays, and we learn about their customs and traditions, too.

This week we will drive to the airport in Kansas City to meet two more Czech students. Katarina and Adela will spend five days in our home before moving into a dorm on campus. We’ll come to know one another in those few days, and we’ll spend time helping them learn their way around the campus and the town. We’ll loan them bedding and towels and other little items for their dorm rooms. They’ll know they can call us at any time for a question, a need, or just to talk. We’ll have dinner at least once a month and hear all about their classes, projects, new friends and more. Just like it was when our own children came home during college years.

As so often happens, we have received as much, if not more, than we’ve given to these young people. We have been so impressed with theCzech students who are bright, mannerly, helpful, and industrious. They are wonderful representatives of their country. Like Americans, they are patriotic and proud of their homeland. What better ambassadors between countries than these university students?

We’re looking forward to meeting our two new young women in a few days. The e-mail messages we’ve received from them were filled with enthusiasm about the coming year they will spend here. My hope is that they will leave next summer feeling every bit as enthused and with much to tell family and friends at home.

Photo 1: Dinner in our home with three students, Tereza, Jana and Marcos
Photo 2: Another dinner
Photo 3: One of our Jana's with Ken and me
Photo 4: Another Jana and her boyfriend, Marcos, who is from Argentina
Photo 5: Ken and me with Tomas in Prague

Note: Click on pictures to enlarge