During certain parts of the year I secretly cringe when someone walks into my house. It’s not that I don’t like visitors; it’s more about what my houseguests might see when they enter our home. They will see for example Slot Machines. In the winter and spring, odds are my floors will have some mud deposits that someone tracked in. In the summer and fall, dirt clods and seeds sprinkled around my house are a given.
“It’s just part of life,” I tell myself. Even then, at times it still creates a bit of uneasiness for me when someone comes to visit.
My concerns about my house have had to take a backseat though
My farmhouse — in all its seasonal, messy glory — has been on full display as we have opened our home to a high school foreign exchange student. She’s a Sicilian from a large city who is accustomed to warm weather, ocean views and pasta. Lots of pasta. More about this topic here: https://www.agriland.ie/
In preparing for her exchange experience, she watched all the Hollywood teen movies to help her formulate an understanding of what life would be like for her in America. There were dance routines, musical interludes, mean girls, study groups and school dance scenarios that she studied.
She made a conscious choice to come to the United States to study and participate in the lifestyle and culture. Little did she know, the images, events and people portrayed in the movies she studied in preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime experience would be very different from her reality: life on a farm in rural, central Kansas.
Our family’s goal is to carry on our business as usual while also working to give her the best possible experience this year. It’s safe to say Hollywood didn’t prepare her for the majority of it.
Common conveniences including accessibility to a mall, a movie theater, a great pizza place and a coffee shop are all still possible, although getting there requires a bit more planning and miles on our part.
She’s experienced early drives into town to get to school, dirt road treks required to get to a classmate’s house, small class sizes at our rural school where the math teacher is also the cross country and scholars bowl coach, making selections at our small town grocery store and the beauty of a community coming together for a weeknight high school basketball game.
She’s had friendly conversations with folks during a community meal served family-style at a local church, checked out books from our local library, discovered butterscotch, experienced slow Wi-Fi, which affects her Netflix viewing. She’s also learning the beauty of Amazon’s two-day shipping.
She’s watched our farm dog give birth, and she’s held a piglet in her arms. Our local FFA chapter members welcomed her and then put her to work , and she has experienced the joy (and chill) of traversing the farmyard on an inner tube pulled by a four-wheeler following a recent snowstorm.
While the clothes shopping options are limited, especially for a teenager who usually spends portions of her weekends visiting shops trying on clothes with her friends for fun. She’s beginning to realize that we have to plan our shopping adventures a little more than she would in Sicily. And, thank God almighty, it only took two trips to Wichita to secure the prom dress!
After multiple video calls with her family and Snapchat posts seeking advice, she has even purchased her own pair of cowboy boots
The girl is committed and living a life she didn’t even know existed. To say she’s adjusted nicely is a huge understatement. She has become part of our small, rural community, and she has fully embraced the lifestyle and all the community has to offer.
While she has learned and experienced a lot during her time with us, I know my family has gained some valuable lessons as well. And for me, allowing her to view our farmhouse in all its seasonal, messy glory is something I’ve been able to relax about. After all, it is just a part of life for our farm family here in rural, central Kansas.
I’ve been quite reflective lately as I prepare to turn in the keys to my classroom and begin the next chapter in life.
What began as a temporary gig to teach journalism courses for the remainder of a school year somehow morphed into 16 years. SIXTEEN years!
In January of 2003, I left my job as an associate producer for the top-rated morning news program in New Mexico. While working at the NBC affiliate in Albuquerque I saw a lot of “normal, everyday” bad news. This was also the time leading up to the invasion of Iraq. With the three Air Force bases located in New Mexico, families were already impacted—and we were covering it. The bad and the ugly overshadowing the good.
As a producer for a morning show, I saw A LOT of bad PLUS everything that happened once the sun went down. Add darkness, a full moon and constant monitoring of police scanners and it’s no wonder almost everyone in the newsroom chain smoked, cursed like sailors and heavily caffeinated.
I covered a lot of stories where either drugs, gangs, violence or death was the theme. Yes, there was the Balloon Fiesta, wildfires, and bear sightings. But so many of the truly tragic stories involved young people. I wondered if those kids’ stories would’ve been different had they had a stronger support system. So when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to do something about it instead of reporting on it. In full transparency, I also wanted to eventually be a parent who could be present for her own kids—something I saw my coworkers struggle with due to the demands of the job.
A journalism teaching position needed filled after the teacher abruptly left during the first semester. What they didn’t tell me—but I soon discovered—was that teacher who had abruptly left had been attacked by a student with a wooden shank that the student had made in the shop class. Something administration “forgot” to disclose to me until after I signed my contract.
The school had good, intelligent, talented kids (white, black, brown, legal and illegal). The problem was there was lack of opportunity for many of them. It was quite common to go into lockdown. It was quite common that students would get jumped (usually during lunch). It was quite common for young teens to be walked off campus in handcuffs. It was unfortunately the norm.
I was given funds to build as long as it focused on the improvement of reading and writing. I dug in, got my darkroom in working order and started out with pinhole cameras made from Pringles cans until my cameras arrived. My Spanish speaking students—the hardest working group of kids I’ve ever had—started a news program that we’d air right after Channel One News once a week—not because they couldn’t do a daily episode but because it took forever to render on the early non-linear editing system.
My goal was to “trick” the kids into learning. Cameras could help begin telling stories, darkroom work required focus and time (which would keep them out of trouble during lunch), producing a news program required knowing what was going on in the world by reading the newspapers and then discussing.
I enjoyed it, the challenge, the kids. So I stuck around an additional year, coaching volleyball as well.