Local Lions welcome exchange students
Published 1:29 pm Saturday, July 9, 2016
Now in its 99th year, Lions Clubs International continues living up to its name by again promoting the exchange of culture, ideas and even people with the arrival of students from other lands.
In Franklin, Welton and Lottie Deshields are the host parents of Caythy Petersen and Reetta Meskanen, who arrived just this past weekend. Petersen is from Funen (also called Fyn), an island of Denmark. Meskanen is from Vantaa, which is just north of Helsinki, Finland.
Petersen, 19, said she had learned of the exchange program and signed up. That included writing an essay that included “hobbies and everything,” she said, adding that her closest friend’s father helped with the application.
This trip stateside is not her first, though, having visited before with family. Petersen quickly said, “It’s the first on my own this time,” and added that because of that, at times the experience has been “very scary.”
Meskanen credits her mother for initially getting her to the U.S.
“My mom found out about it on the Internet and said ‘This will be good for you.’ I said, ‘Yes, this would be good for me.’”
Like her comrade, the 16-year-old has visited America before — California and even Virginia — but that was also done with family.
Speaking of commonalities, language differences have not been an issue for this visit. Petersen, for example, said she’s been learning English since she was in the second grade. Although her father’s Vietnamese, she was born in the United Kingdom where her parents met in London.
As a result, “Magic happened,” Petersen said with a laugh.
Having moved to Denmark at age 4 or 5 so that her mother could be closer to her own family, Petersen considers herself Danish.
There are a total of 29 students sent by various Lions club throughout Europe, according to Deshields. In addition to their young wards, others came from Belgium, Brazil, Estonia, France, Hungary, Spain and Switzerland. In addition to the couple in Franklin, the other young people are distributed: five in Chesapeake, three in Newport News; two in Whitestone; two in Windsor; five in Williamsburg; nine in Virginia Beach; and one in Yorktown.
“Our students are living as sons and daughters and are experiencing our food, culture and way of live,” said Welton Deshields. “They get to see our state capital, national capital, White House, Washington Monument and other sites that they will probably never see again.”
He added that Petersen and Meskanen will stay in Franklin until July 16, at which time they’ll go on a wilderness camp in northern Virginia for three days. After which, they go with the other students to Virginia Wesleyan for nine days and then back to their respective hosts for a couple of more days before flying back to their home countries at the end of July.