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Friday, July 1, 2016

Family welcomes exchange student back into their home

Monday, August 9, 2004

Though they'd given thought to starting a family in 1990, Bill and Lea Ann Reeves had no children of their own. A friend had hosted a foreign exchange student and told Lea Ann that YFU, Youth for Understanding, desperately needed host families. So the Reeves decided to give it a try. It was quite a thrill and culture shock for all.

"We had no children at the time," Bill said, laughing. "And suddenly we were parents to a teenager."

Seventeen-year-old Andres Grosso, from San Justo, Argentina, came to live with the Reeves for seven months to learn about Americans and the American culture.

"It was a rewarding experience," Andres said from the Reeves' home Saturday. Andres, 31, and his brother German, 29, visited with the Reeves over the weekend.

The brothers, both mechanical engineers, are spending a month and a half in Alachus, Fla., in a training program for their employer, Sandvik Mining and Construction. This is Andres' first return to the United States since he was an exchange student.

"What a joy it is to have him back after 15 years." Lea Ann said. "And to meet his brother. I don't know that I ever expected to see him again."

And Andres was not only happy to visit his American "Mom" and "Dad", but was equally excited to meet his American "brothers". Cainan Reeves, 13, and Chandler Reeves, 7, weren't yet born when Andres made his first trip to Brazil.

He was asked what effect the exchange experience had on him.

"It had a lot of impact on my life, in every aspect of my life" Andres said.

Then the blended family, joined by the heart, recalled the enjoyable times they spent together, sharing their lives 15 years ago.

Andres had heard about the exchange program from some friends in his home school. Though excited, he was a little intimidated by the unknown at first.

His native language is Spanish and although he had studied English for 10 years, Andres said, "it was British English and very different. It was very difficult the first week or so to get Mom to understand what I wanted to eat," he said laughing.

The Reeves were a little nervous initially, too.

Lea Ann said it was a lot of fun, learning first hand about a culture you've never been to before. Having another person to come in and live with you and become a part of your family.

"But there was a lot of responsibility involved," she said. "You know, this child is coming that far from home, being away from his family for six months or a year, at that age. You want to do everything in your power to make him feel as comfortable as possible, being away from his natural family."

Andres discussed some of the dietary similarities and differences. He said their background was from Italy and in Argentina, they eat lots of meat and pasta.

They use olive oil and vinegar on their salads, not the creamy salad dressings common to America. Andres' favorite American food is Little Debbie Nutty Bars. He loves peanut butter and they don't have it in Argentina. He said his mother requested that he bring home many jars of peanut butter.

Food preferences became a fun topic of conversation. Although he wasn't here in 1990, Cainan said he recalled a food favorite of another exchange student his family hosted in 1998. A boy From Brazil, South America, loved mustard on pizza.

Andres remembered his days at Northview High School. He participated on the varsity basketball team and studied calculus or algebra, history, geography, government and Spanish.

"It wasn't equivalent but it was a good education," he said.

Asked if he was glad he'd had the experience, Andres quickly responded.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I cried a lot when I had to go. It was a big family. It felt like my family back home. They opened that door for me."

Gesturing with his hands to help express his thoughts, Andres continued.

"Her sisters and brothers and mom and dad. Everyone was, how you say, hospitable," Andres said in his broken English with help from Lea Ann. "It was very fun. All those months were fun. I had a big impression. I have a big picture in my head that's going to be there forever."

Andres talked about his job. He and German (pronounced Hermone) are working with a mining company that is extracting gold and silver from the Andes Mountains. Their camp is 14,000 feet above sea level. The mine is at 15,000 feet.

Andres said when he first arrived at the camp it took a day or so to acclimate to the atmosphere. But he thought it might be good for him.

"I used to have asthma as a child," he explained. "I don't have asthma anymore. And probably the mountain will help me a little bit more."

The aroma of a delicious home cooked meal was coming from Lea Ann's kitchen. The Reeves and the Grossos talked and laughed, updated and shared. It was obvious that the two families were enjoying this reunion.

"It's definitely a great experience," Lea Ann said talking about the exchange program. "If you enjoy kids and want to learn about another culture, it's something everyone should try."

Then Andres smiled and added, "And they are welcome to visit my home in my country, anytime."

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