By Jennie Zeitler
Butch and Sandy Roelike, who live south of Elrosa, have missed hosting a foreign exchange student only one year out of the past 11. After agreeing to help out a host family whose work took them out of town, the Roelikes discovered how much they enjoyed the experience when Hannah stayed with them.
In addition to raising their four children, the family has grown by 11 more “children:” Hannah from Germany, Mareesha from Australia, Anna Erica from Finland, Art from Germany, Patty from the Netherlands, Michelle from Australia, Georg from Germany, Ola from Norway, Eva from Germany, Rebecca from Denmark and this year, Ella from Germany.
Cultural and language differences are par for the course.
“Art (from Germany) agreed with us and nodded a lot. He kept saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’” said Sandy Roelike. “So I asked him if he was really sure he wanted to get up at 5 a.m. to feed the calves. From that point on, he asked a lot more questions to make sure he understood what we were saying.”
Mareesha (from Australia) loved being out in the snow.
“She had never seen snow, and would just look at the snowflakes in her hand,” said Roelike.
Within the first year of hosting, Roelike became a local coordinator for Education First (EF) Foundation for Foreign Study, one of many organizations which facilitates exchange programs.
“I always called it my hobby when I started,” Roelike said. “It’s still not a job. The day there is no fun is the day I’m done. I saw how much good it did to the kids who came and those here in the
schools — making the world a smaller place.”
In 2012, Roelike became a regional coordinator for EF.
“It just kind of happened,” she said. “There was a need, and I wanted to make sure the kids kept coming. It’s very beneficial to have local coordinators with connections in the community.”
Through Roelike, students have been placed in Melrose, Sauk Centre, New London and in the Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Minnewaska school districts.
Roelike notes that she always takes a coat and some blankets when picking up students from Australia at the airport.
“They always come in January, because of their school calendar, and they come from summer,” she said.
Although Roelike is not a volunteer, the financial compensation is minimal. Her compensation comes in other forms.
“I do it because I enjoy the kids,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoy the kids and their families.”
Roelike also acts as a liaison between the local coordinators and EF offices in Boston.
Families who are wondering whether to host can consider whether they are active and involved in the community.
“Involved kids seem to find friends faster and settle in faster,” Roelike said.
She points out differences between hosting when a family’s children are still at home and when they have moved out.
“Empty nesters make wonderful host families,” said Roelike. “They have more time, and it’s a good way to stay involved with the school and the community.”
The Roelikes maintain lifelong friendships with the students. They spent two and a half weeks in Europe visiting their European kids and their families. They also attended Mareesha’s 21st birthday celebration in Australia. Mareesha has been back to Minnesota to visit several times and Michelle came back three summers in a row.
“They’ve taught us so much; I hope we have taught them something too,” said Roelike.
For more information call Roelike at (320) 262-9405 or visit www.ef foundation.org.