Mater Dei welcomed three exchange students in 2020-2021

By Megan Erbacher

The Message assistant editor

As far back as anyone can remember, Mater Dei High School never hosted three foreign exchange students at the same time, until last school year during a global pandemic. 

“So (it was) really a special time, especially during a pandemic, for these families to step up,” Jill Seiler said.

Seiler, Mater Dei’s enrollment manager, said there’s always a need for host families through ASSE International Student Exchange Programs, which is a rewarding experience. The three Mater Dei families shared some of their experiences from this school year.

Jason and Marie Allen

Jason and Marie Allen hosted Linda Rattmann, from Germany,  who was their first exchange student. Rattmann arrived in January and left May 31.

Marie said her family likes chaos, so in a house with five kids, why not add another one? The Allen’s have Austin, 16; Kayla, 14; Bryson, 12; Jackson, 10; and Caitlyn, 8.

Marie said they enjoyed comparing America and Germany. 

“It could be something as simple as food and how we prepare it,” she said. “Linda loves cooking at home in Germany, and that hobby continued here as well. Her German treats will be added to our recipes. Other differences were more complex, like how we dispose of our waste and what we recycle.”

Marie and Jason’s advice to families interested in hosting: “Just do it.”

“We think the experience that our younger children have gained has given them insight to how large the world actually is.”

Jerry and Melanie Blanton

Jerry and Melanie Blanton hosted Emile Rejou Mechain from Niort, France. Emile arrived in September and left May 31. This was the third time they hosted a student; but when Melanie was a child, her mom hosted a professor.

Jerry and Melanie have three kids: Seth, 22; Jered, 20; and Gabriel, 18.

Melanie said COVID-19 definitely changed Emile's experiences here by preventing him from attending football and basketball games, homecoming and Christmas dances.

Melanie said the ASSE program makes it easy to choose a kid that fits your family. 

“Imagine how brave these kids have to be ... I was proud to welcome them into our home and make them feel like one of us.”

Emile Rejou Mechain, who completed his junior year at Mater Dei, said the Blanton’s made him feel welcome from day one.

“I always wanted to participate in an exchange program because of the language, discover a new life and culture that I didn’t know and meet a lot of new people. … One thing that surprised me a lot was how people were very welcoming at school.”

Emile said he will miss his new friends and the food. He said he had “so many good times here in Evansville that I want to stay here longer. … It's an amazing adventure. I can understand that this is scary, but (it’s) completely worth it.”

Mike and Julie Forcum

Mike and Julie Forcum hosted Caterina Salpietro Cazzunella from Italy. Caterina arrived in January and left May 28. This is the first time the Forcum’s hosted a student, but Julie’s parents hosted two in the late 1980s.

Mike and Julie have four kids at home: Karl, 20; Gretchen, 18; Kurt, 16; and Heidi, 12. Julie thought being a host family would be a great experience for her children, plus they had an empty bedroom.

Julie said she’ll remember Caterina’s healthier eating habits, however, Caterina did discover she likes homemade chocolate chip cookies. The family took some weekend trips to bigger cities, like Indianapolis, Missouri, Chicago and St. Louis. 

“It has been enjoyable for our family to show Caterina a small part of our country. … She has been a good excuse for us to do more things together as a family.”