By BRAD KEITH
TheFlashToday.com NEWS & SPORTS – FREE & LOCAL
STEPHENVILLE (August 25, 2015) — For Sharon Schapp, it’s a dream come true.
For Rus and Kristi Mayes, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
For Mike Carroll, it’s continued growth of a program he has experienced first-hand multiple times and grown to love.
Schapp, 16, is from the city of Almere in The Netherlands, and knew she wanted to travel to America from the moment a friend of hers returned from visiting Atlanta.
“She told me about America and the people and how great it was, so I wanted to do the same,” said Schapp during her first day of school at Stephenville High School Monday. “I looked for a high school through the organization STS, and here I am.”
It wasn’t quite that easy. Schapp did go through Student Transition Services, or the STS Foundation, which Stephenville assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer Mike Carroll has utilized several times to find the right exchange student for his own family to host.
Carroll, now an area coordinator for STS, had long been trying to get the Mayes family and other locals, especially educators, to explore the possibility of hosting an exchange student.
“I’ve really enjoyed it because it gives these kids the opportunity to come from overseas and experience America and American schools. Then they can go home and be an ambassador for us,” Carroll said. “I also like that it shows my own children and kids at school there is life outside Erath County. It allows them to open up their minds a little bit, too.”
Carroll has helped arrange host families for 11 exchange students attending four area schools – Stephenville, Huckabay, Santo and Glen Rose. There are seven at Stephenville High School – two from Australia, two from The Netherlands and one each from Sweden, France and Norway.
“We’ve hosted exchange students several times before, and have been trying to get other good families to host,” said Carroll. “Almost all of these couples work in education. I think that helps because they can make the transition at school easier on them and because they have experience handling other people’s kids, which isn’t easy.”
Carroll had asked the Mayses before. But Rus and Kristi are busy folks. Rus is the head softball coach at Stephenville, where Kristi is head cross country coach and assistant basketball coach, and both teach classes. They also have a daughter, Kinsey, who is beginning school this year at Henderson Junior High.
“Were still busy, but now with Kinsey being older, she doesn’t necessarily have to go everywhere we do and we have some more flexibility. At the same time, we knew we wanted a girl so we could have someone that could relate to Kinsey,” said Rus Mayes. “So we thought about it and prayed about it for a while and the timing just kind of felt right.”
Carroll shared profiles of students searching for a host family, and Sharon appeared the perfect match for the Mayeses.
“She’s a great fit for us. Sharon is an only child and so is Kinsey, so they have hit it off and it’s been fun to watch that bond and connection build this last week,” said Kristi Mayes. “Kinsey is attached to her hip.”
The relationship between Schapp and the Mayeses began with Facebook messaging, and that led to Skype.
“I was really nervous in the beginning, but after two or three times of talking to them, it just seemed normal like I had known them forever,” said Schapp, who says her parents miss her but have not expressed worry. “By the time I came here, I wasn’t really that nervous about meeting them anymore.”
First the exchange students traveled to New York.
“There were a lot of people and a lot of cars, and I thought it would be that way everywhere,” Schapp said. “Then I got to Dallas and when I went outside the airport it was so hot. And in Stephenville there is almost no traffic, not many buildings. It’s different.”
Schapp says she was immediately welcomed by not only the Mayes family, but by several youth her age.
“People are very kind here. They took me to restaurants, movies, all that fun stuff,” Schapp said. “They are really welcoming.”
In The Netherlands, Schapp said she would attend school from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. somedays and other days it would run from 10 or 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. While students attend the same classes each day in Stephenville, that’s not always the case for Dutch students, she says.
“I was really nervous about school just because it’s so different than what I’m used to at home,” she said.
But she quickly learned different doesn’t have to mean worse. By 11 a.m. Monday, she had memorized her list of classes and appeared to be transitioning well. She is taking Algebra III, Digital Media, US History, Video Tech, English III, Civics and Athletics.
Schapp says her favorite sports are softball, basketball and volleyball. She plans to play softball for the Honeybees.
But school is just part of the experience. For Schapp, it’s also about understanding American culture.
“The culture is so different here than back home. I like learning and understanding it,” she said. “Everyone is so sweet and wants to help me learn how people live here.”
Those hosting the exchange students are being cultured, as well.
“It’s interesting all of a sudden being thrust into the position of not only being a parent to a teenage daughter, but to one whose family is much more liberal than us. We’re having to think about things like curfew and dress code and stuff like that, but we have to consider and respect her culture, too.”
Everyone involved has their own expectations and hopes for the ongoing experience.
“I would like to see her take from this the viewpoint of being part of a traditional American family – both parents work, raise a family, love what they do, are passionate about their jobs and are happy with what they have,” Kristi Mayes said. “We want to share American things like Texas Rangers games and Six-Flags, and we want to share some of our stances on things such as religion and morals, customs and philosophies on life. We want to broaden her view of the world while she is helping to broaden ours.”
Sharon has a similar perspective with a teenager’s touch.
“I want to meet new people and continue to learn the language and culture,” she said, before smiling and adding, “And I’m looking forward to prom. We don’t have prom at home. And sports, I’m excited about playing sports.”