With the holidays approaching, Ruth Lansing of Port Washington is doing everything she can to make Matias, a Rotary International exchange student who is living with her and her son Josiah Baumann, feel less homesick and experience various traditions.
She’s called on Port Washington Rotary Club members and others in the community to invite Matias, who is from southern Chile, to family and community events to broaden his experiences.
Matias is the second exchange student to live with the Lansings. Tai, an American Field Service (AFS) exchange student from Thailand stayed with them when Josiah was a freshman and Tai was a senior at Port Washington High School.
Josiah is now a senior and so is Matias.
Matias’ last name is not being used at the request of Rotary Interantional, which cites security concerns linked to the kidnapping of an exchange student several years ago.
During the summer, the Lansings also hosted a Lakeshore Chinooks baseball player.
Lansing is a busy executive who travels throughout central Wisconsin as operations manager for Associated Bank. She is also president of the Port Washington Rotary Club and a single mother.
There is always time for welcoming another child into her heart and life, she said.
“You take a child into your home who isn’t your child and treat him as if he were your child,” she said.
“It really isn’t that much work. Sure, it is extra laundry and an extra plate of food to serve at mealtime. Besides that, it’s not much work. It gives you an opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions. You can experience another country without going there.”
Lansing said she also does it because Josiah is her only child. This is one way he can experience having a brother, albeit from another country.
“I like having someone to hang out with all the time,” Josiah said.
The boys enjoy playing foosball and video games together. Matias said he plays the same video games in Chile.
Matias was on the Port High junior varsity soccer team and played with some of Josiah’s friends on the varsity team.
Josiah went to Matias’ games when he wasn’t working at the Port marina, and Matias will likely go to his tennis matches unless they conflict with his track practices and meets.
While Josiah was studying for his ACT exam, Matias said his friends were also preparing for their college entrance exams. That is something he will have to do when he returns to Chile.
Although Matias is considered a senior at Port High, he will only be a junior when he returns home and will have 1-1-/2 years left of high school. He wants to be a civil engineer and attend a university in Santiago.
Josiah plans to study actuarial science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Matias is looking forward to snow, lots of snow, so he can go downhill skiing. Josiah is a ski boarder. Matias has been warned nearby ski hills won’t compare to what he’s accustomed to.
Chile, which is the longest country in the world and only 150 miles wide at its widest point, is between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Matias skis in the Andes when he’s home.
Matias attends a German school in Chile, and many of his friends are going to Germany for their summer break, which begins in December. Matias usually spends his summer vacations working on his uncle’s dairy farm.
Matias keeps in touch with his family and friends through Skype, the Internet and text messaging.
Both Matias and Tai were last minute exchanges that occurred because Lansing learned a student needed a home.
In early July, she was contacted by the Rotary district office asking if Port Washington would host a student since its last foreign exchange was in 1991.
Another Rotary Club had agreed to sponsor Matias but had to back out, Lansing said.
“I had such a good experience with AFS that I said yes after discussing it with Josiah,” she said.
“It’s his senior year, and I wanted to be sure he wanted to do this again.”
Josiah willingly agreed.
The AFS exchange occurred because Lansing learned a girl in the state needed a new home. As she was going through the application process, AFS officials suggested she take a boy instead because she has a son, and Tai arrived.
“I believe Josiah and I captured more from this experience then we ever anticipated,” Lansing said. “I feel like I have a son and a part of my family with Tai in Thailand and I know I will feel the same way when Matias leaves. We both hope we can visit them one day and experience their culture, family and friends.”
While families with high school students may be the most common host families, Lansing said, any situation will be considered.
“Some have young children. Some have children who have graduated and they miss the activity. Some are single parents like me,” she said.
Matias said the Rotary Club in his city, Osorno, paid for part of his expenses and provides a monthly allowance.
There are 18 student exchanges in the Rotary district in Wisconsin and monthly activities are planned for them.
“We are all close friends,” Matias said.
Each student is given a jacket on which they collect Rotary pins and other memorabilia. By the time they leave, Matias said, the jackets, including the back and sleeves, will be covered with items to remember their year in Wisconsin.
Lansing and Josiah know from experience that the hardest part is going to be saying goodbye when Matias returns to his home.
“When it’s time to let them go, it’s like sending your child off,” Lansing said. “I cried for a week prior to Tai leaving, and I am sure it will be just as difficult with Matias.”
Image Information: Matias showed the Chilean flag to his Port mother Ruth Lansing and brother Josiah. Photo by Sam Arendt