Five international exchange students, from China, started this school year under the roofs of four Ormond Beach families’ homes.
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Fifteen-year-old international student Zirui Shen — or Ryan, if you’d rather call him by his “American name” — began his senior year at Father Lopez High School last month. And that’s where he intends to earn his degree, according to Shirley James, his Ormond Beach host parent.
James began serving as a host to international students last year, when Father Lopez launched its exchange program. And at one point, she hosted three students from China all at one time. But now, it’s just Shen.
Four other exchange students also currently live with Ormond Beach families — under the roofs of Scott and Mindy James (James’ sister-in-law), John and Kim Restuccia, and Illiana and Ray Steel.
“I think that it’s just a very interesting opportunity for my kids to have someone from a completely different culture live among us,” James said. “Who would’ve ever thought I’d need a whole section (in my utensil drawer) just for chop sticks?”
Bridging the cultural divide at the dinner table, James added, has been her biggest challenge as a host parent so far. But other things come naturally.
“The reality is, a teenage boy is a teenage boy, and it doesn’t really matter where they were born,” James said. “Once they come into my home, they’re another child. It’s like having another family member — even though it’s different. … It’s a joy to have an extended family that really crosses the globe.”
The Father Lopez Pilot Club will host a dinner next month to honor the international students and, according to its flier, “let them know we are here to support them.” The group’s international welcome dinners have been a tradition since the 1980s.
“Most of (these students) come from very large cities, so it’s been an adjustment for them living in a small town,” she added. “But the school is always looking for additional host families.”
For more on becoming an international host family, email [email protected].