“Thanks Rotary” from all the Schmidts.
In 1986 the Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club accepted an exchange application for a student, "Tek" from Thailand. When the day of his arrival came the club had not found a host family for him. Jim Schmidt received a call from George Wood asking if we would keep him for a week or so until a host family could be acquired. The Schmidt’s said yes, and so George and Colleen brought Tek to them after picking him up at the airport.
Within three days the Schmidt’s realized that they were going to host an exchange student once again. It was a decision they would never regret. George Wood was notified to stop looking for a family, and Tek settled into the life style of his new family.
Tek was no ordinary, run of the mill exchange student. He was organized, hard working, and dedicated to being a good student, a good ambassador for Rotary and for Thailand. He never complained. He helped Twila cook, clean, and wash cloths. He chopped wood for me and helped me to remodel a bed room. He painted, nailed, and would go shopping with us just to carry packages. Somehow he thought he had to carry ALL the packages, and I nearly had to wrestle him to the floor to get a few bags from him so that people didn’t think I was abusing him. His energy was endless.
The year he was here, I was trying to lose weight and he kept me on that diet. I was not allowed to waiver. Tek celebrated his first Christmas ever with us. That was such a great experience, watching a young man of 18 open his first Christmas gifts. It was a whole new dimension of excitement. You see, Tek is a Buddhist by faith, and we were able to get him to a Temple while he was with us, but he sure enjoyed the Christian holiday of Christmas, with its gifts and special foods.
Tek had a second family that he went to in the Spring, Mark’s mom and dad, the John Krystyniak family. They were very good to Tek and he appreciated them very much. The change was hard on Tek, but really necessary in order to have a more rounded experience, and he understood that. When Tek’s year ended and it was time to go to the airport for that final farewell, it tore at our hearts. When feelings like that happen, you know that you had a good experience. With some kids, you want to lead them toward the airplane door so that they could get on the plane sooner. It was not like that with Tek; it’s just amazing how attached you can become in just a few months.
After he left, our house slowly went back to its disorganized ways. I gained weight, and Twila no longer had her helper. In time we got used to the fact that he was really gone.
Now in Thailand, Tek went back to work on the Duck Farm and life pretty much went back to what it was before he came to the States. For those of you who don’t understand “Duck Farm” let me explain. The Duck Farm is home to 6 million ducks, 3 million chickens, and 60,000 pigs a year. About 80 workers plus family tend to the operations at 3 or 4 farm locations.
In 1989 I was planning a business trip to China. When I told my family that I intended to visit “Jay” in the Philippines and “Tek” in Thailand, all my plans changed. Twila, along with Darla and Wendy were now joining me. There was no way I was going to visit these boys without them. What a wonderful trip we had. China and Jay are other stories, but our experience in Thailand was super. Tek’s home was beautiful, with marble floors and servants (this was a duck farm?)! Tek and his family held a great dinner at the home for us with his grandparents, Rotary officers and local officials. After dinner his aunts, uncles and cousins came and there was a great party in the living room with Grandfather entertaining us with swords and dancing. The next day we rode elephants, pet tigers, witnessed kick boxing events and much more.
I stopped to see Tek in 1999 after exhibiting at the Electronica Show in Hong Kong. The farm was much the same and the people very friendly. By that time Tek had taken over the management of the entire business and all the family worked under his leadership. During that visit he pulled me out of the path of a Python that just might have gotten me in the head.
Since that visit much has changed for Tek. He converted his farm into a high tech operation to guard against “bird flu”. All ducks are raised in climate controlled barns. There are no more chickens, but they now have many lakes and ponds and have developed a prosperous fish farming operation.
Tek has bought a house in Bangkok, about 40 miles from the farm because his children, Aun and Kim are studying in the Catholic School there, in order to give them the best education possible. He wanted them to have a home close to school so that they didn’t have to travel so much. After the children are in school each day Tek and Moo drive to the farm where they work and then return to Bangkok to be with the children after school and for dinner each night. After school on Friday, they all return to the farm for the weekend. He made sure his kids can speak English and they are now learning Chinese. Tek and Moo have a Christmas and gifts for their children every year. And every Christmas morning since he left us, he has called at 6AM to wish us Merry Christmas. He is surely like a son. He is also a good Dad and Moo is a good Mom. Oh yes, because of being an exchange student in the US, Tek learned to hug. They and their children all hug now.
Tek told me about the affect on his life from being an exchange student, and wants his children to have the same experience. When the kids asked about coming to our house Tek said, "No, this is my family, you have to get your own family. This family would just treat you like grandchildren." Wise dad!
While he was here, Twila and I took them to Chocolate World. The sights around Independence Hall, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, a Broadway Show, the Monuments in DC, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and yes, we were even able to arrange a tour of the White House. Like I said, Tek has high energy.
Tek and his family have brought much joy to my family, over the years. This experience could have never happened for us had it not been for Rotary and the Exchange Program. We are now beyond the age and circumstances for being good host parents, but we have some of the best memories and friendships a person or family could ever have. I know we are a better and more understanding family of world affairs and have a better understanding of people in general because of experiences like this. “Thanks Rotary” from all the Schmidts.