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Semester abroad

GAYS MILLS - There was an article in this paper recently about the eight foreign exchange students that attended North Crawford High School this year. It told about where the students were from, how they got involved in student activities here, and their impressions of living in this corner of America, far from home. Having foreign students here every year adds a lot to our school by giving the school and community a global perspective. 

The article made me think about what a great experience that travel is for a young person. Many college students now take advantage of a semester abroad, attending a school in a foreign country. You hear about high school graduates these days taking something called a gap year. They postpone going to college or entering the work force for a year to take a break after their 13 or 14 years of education. It’s a great concept and in itself can be as educational as a formal educational program, if done right.

The FFA (Future Farmers of America) has a program called Work Experience Abroad. In this program, high school seniors apply to go to a foreign country to live and work on a farm for either three or six months. So, okay, they do enter the workforce, but they also experience often life-changing and personal growth experiences that no school can teach. They live with a host farm family and help with whatever they are doing on the farm, meanwhile learning about their host country, its culture, and often do considerable traveling “on the way home.”

Two students from North Crawford FFA took advantage of the WEA Program while I taught there. One of them, Galeon Eitsert, just weeks after graduating from high school in 1988, traveled thousands of miles to Australia. There he spent six months on a diversified family farm. The farm raised sheep (no surprise there) and hogs.  Galeon lived with the family and I couldn’t have thought of a better ambassador to send on such an adventure.  He was pleasant and hard working and soon fit right in with the family.

One of Galeon’s first experiences was going to the local rural pub with the father of the family. All of the neighbors knew of Galeon’s pending arrival and were anticipating meeting him and welcoming him to the neighborhood. 

Australian pub culture must be like Irish pub culture: family friendly,  music oriented, and an important part of the community.  After a short time at the pub a man walked up to Galeon, handed him a guitar and said “Here Yank, sing!” 

I don’t know if Galeon sang just then, but when he got home and was telling me all about his trip he simply broke into song for me, completely unabashed.

Galeon built up some extra work hours on the farm and was able to take a two-week bus tour around Australia. There were people from 14 countries on the trip and Galeon was the only Yank. 

A trailer was pulled behind the bus and that was the chuck wagon.  In the outback, the tour needed to provide meals to the travelers. At one stop, the riders were given the opportunity to bungi-jump from a high bridge and Galeon took the plunge.

It just so happened that Galeon returned home from Australia about the time of the FFA Banquet in March. I asked him to say a few words about his experiences. Galeon, this formerly shy, reserved Kickapoogian talked for about a half-an-hour about his global adventure. He didn’t sing for us that night, but I’m sure he would have if asked.