By Kim Baldwin, McPherson County farmer
During certain parts of the year I secretly cringe when someone walks into my house. It’s not that I don’t like visitors; it’s more about what my houseguests might see when they enter our home. In the winter and spring, odds are my floors will have some mud deposits that someone tracked in. In the summer and fall, dirt clods and seeds sprinkled around my house are a given.
“It’s just part of life,” I tell myself. Even then, at times it still creates a bit of uneasiness for me when someone comes to visit.
My concerns about my house have had to take a backseat though, as we have an extended houseguest this year. My farmhouse — in all its seasonal, messy glory — has been on full display as we have opened our home to a high school foreign exchange student. She’s a Sicilian from a large city who is accustomed to warm weather, ocean views and pasta. Lots of pasta.
In preparing for her exchange experience, she watched all the Hollywood teen movies to help her formulate an understanding of what life would be like for her in America. There were dance routines, musical interludes, mean girls, study groups and school dance scenarios that she studied.
She made a conscious choice to come to the United States to study and participate in the lifestyle and culture. Little did she know, the images, events and people portrayed in the movies she studied in preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime experience would be very different from her reality: life on a farm in rural, central Kansas.
Our family’s goal is to carry on our business as usual while also working to give her the best possible experience this year. It’s safe to say Hollywood didn’t prepare her for the majority of it.
Common conveniences including accessibility to a mall, a movie theater, a great pizza place and a coffee shop are all still possible, although getting there requires a bit more planning and miles on our part.
She’s experienced early drives into town to get to school, dirt road treks required to get to a classmate’s house, small class sizes at our rural school where the math teacher is also the cross country and scholars bowl coach, making selections at our small town grocery store and the beauty of a community coming together for a weeknight high school basketball game.
She’s had friendly conversations with folks during a community meal served family-style at a local church, checked out books from our local library, discovered butterscotch, experienced slow Wi-Fi, which affects her Netflix viewing. She’s also learning the beauty of Amazon’s two-day shipping.
She’s watched our farm dog give birth, and she’s held a piglet in her arms. Our local FFA chapter members welcomed her and then put her to work , and she has experienced the joy (and chill) of traversing the farmyard on an inner tube pulled by a four-wheeler following a recent snowstorm.
While the clothes shopping options are limited, especially for a teenager who usually spends portions of her weekends visiting shops trying on clothes with her friends for fun. She’s beginning to realize that we have to plan our shopping adventures a little more than she would in Sicily. And, thank God almighty, it only took two trips to Wichita to secure the prom dress!
After multiple video calls with her family and Snapchat posts seeking advice, she has even purchased her own pair of cowboy boots. The girl is committed and living a life she didn’t even know existed. To say she’s adjusted nicely is a huge understatement. She has become part of our small, rural community, and she has fully embraced the lifestyle and all the community has to offer.
While she has learned and experienced a lot during her time with us, I know my family has gained some valuable lessons as well. And for me, allowing her to view our farmhouse in all its seasonal, messy glory is something I’ve been able to relax about. After all, it is just a part of life for our farm family here in rural, central Kansas.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.
Insight: Opening Our Doors
By Kim Baldwin, McPherson County farmer