By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff
It’s become something of a norm for a kid from another country to be staying with the Strouds, but doesn’t make it any less enriching.
“We’ve been doing it so long that the house would feel empty if he didn’t have an exchange student,” noted Tami Stroud who, along with her husband John, has hosted youngsters from France, Germany, Argentina and Austria through Rotary International’s Youth Exchange program.
“Teenagers are teenagers no matter where they come from,” she added.
At this point their son, Trevor, can hardly count himself as an only child anymore.
“It’s really cool to have basically brothers and sisters from all around the world,” he said.
That’s been particularly true with the Stefan Platzer, since the boys are about the same age and they do chores side by side.
Platzer hails from the city of Wels, Austria, and comes from a small family himself.
“It’s basically my mother, my sister, me and our two cats,” he told Carbondale Rotarians in a presentation during a recent meeting.
The Rotary exchange program is more affordable than most of its competitors, but offers less choice as to destination. It’s a one-to-one student shuffle between districts, but it’s often more like musical chairs than a precise swap. Rotary makes concerted efforts to make sure students find a good fit. In Carbondale, that ideally means comfort with relatively rural life and a love of the outdoors. Platzer fits that bill.
“One of the biggest hobbies I had was hiking and skiing, and I think that’s why I’m here,” he said.
Indeed, he’s only just beginning to figure out that whole world isn’t as scenic as the Alps and the Rockies. His affinity for the United States, in general, is fairly recent and thanks mostly to a family trip.
“In middle school I was pretty bad at English,” he said. “I never would have expected I’d be spending time here.”
Coming from a place where you can take a road trip to another country and be back in time for dinner, he noted that “everything is so much bigger” in the United States.
He discovered fairly quickly that Americans often don’t know much about his home country. Even folks who don’t mix Austria up with Australia would be hard pressed to name the capital (Vienna), chancellor (Sebastian Kurz was just sworn in Dec. 18) or famous people (Erwin Schrödinger, Niki Lauda and a dizzying array of composers including Mozart), though some might recollect its roles in both World Wars.
Some of the differences were welcome — Thanksgiving was a favorite for the culinarily inclined Platzer, as was the strange foreign delicacy we know as “banana bread.” Others were concerning — the lack of free higher education or universal health care. Most were just different.
“The first four weeks were pretty strange, but I got used to it,” he said.
Schooling, in particular, is noticeably different, with Austria offering next to no elective choice, teachers who move rooms while students stay in one place and different tracks for different career paths.
While grades for those studying abroad may not count back home, Rotary students are expected to keep them up as part of the program.
Platzer was already attending a boarding school, so being far from home wasn’t too difficult. Indeed, with tech like Snapchat, he’s in touch with his family far more than students of decades or even a few years ago.
Instead, the compounding element has mostly been the small-town dynamic — particularly given the Stroud’s community involvement. Those connections are now his as he becomes part of the family, and there are plans for visiting in both directions.
“You build relationships for your whole life,” Platzer said.
The same goes for the hosts, who have compounding excuses to travel abroad.
“It’s just an incredibly rewarding experience. I think we learn as much as the students do,” John said. “Even though we’re this huge melting pot, I think people have kind of lost sight of those cultural differences.”
While the Strouds plan on continuing to host, Rotary could always use more host families. For more information or to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.