By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Trading a beautiful tropical home pool in an international metropolitan city of nearly a half-million for a horse trough on the edge of the American prairie may not seem like an even exchange — but it has proven to be a priceless experience for Edy Enumo, Rotary Youth Exchange student.
Enumo traveled from his home in Sao Jose Do Rio Preto, Sao Paulo, Brazil last January and stayed with host family Donna and Randy Wilson during 2012. The Wilson’s daughter, Carissa, a student at Oklahoma State University, completed a Rotary Youth Exchange program with the Enumo family in Brazil during 2011-2012.
Before returning home this weekend, Enumo reflected on his year of living in the United States.
“Stillwater is a college town and very different than the area where I’m from — that has about 500,000 people,” Enumo said.
He was thrilled to be sent to an English-speaking country as he had sought out the exchange program for three years with many preparations and challenges of connecting with a host. Enumo speaks English but some colloquiums such as “fixin’ to” and “catching up” needed some explaining. Video games, popular music, movies and the Internet have all developed his language acquisition but there are still many differences in regional expressions, he said.
Initially, the hardest part of committing to an international exchange is leaving your friends and family, he said, but “we kept in touch with Skype and other Internet communication. Enumo has a strong bond with his community in Brazil which has “very friendly people.” He had to explain to friends and family this is “my chance to go out and have a completely different life than I currently have. I wanted to explore new things — get out of the routine.”
“I left people behind — but that is the sacrifice that we have to make sometimes,” he said. “I was ready to arrive in some strange land that I didn’t know about — in a place that I would call home.”
It has been a time to grow mentally and become a better person, Enumo said. Some skills Enumo has developed in Stillwater are chess playing and bowling.
“Edy has doubled his ability in chess — he’s a stronger player," said Jim Berry, a past president of the United States Chess Federation.
Berry said Enumo has risen to number 25 in the rankings of a chess club with 183 active members which meets regularly every Monday night at Pizza West.
“Edy loves the game. We’ve given him books and he comes back a better player,” Berry said. “Edy’s very focused.”
That focus paid off as a member of the Stillwater High School bowling team, where Enumo practiced with some of the best bowlers in the state.
“He improved so much,” said bowling team coaches Dennis Anderson and Cruz Esparza. Teammates Randall Austill and Zach Palank said they “are going to miss Edy because he’s really cool.”
The group shared an interest in music with Enumo sporting an AC/DC “Back in Black” T-shirt as they patrolled the bowling lanes together. A guitarist who attended music school in Brazil, Enumo bought himself a new guitar at Daddy O's to practice and taught himself to play the harmonica this year.
The cold weather was a bit of shock to his Brazilian blood but he loved playing in his first snow ever last winter in Stillwater. Enumo warmed up to the cold and enjoyed a Rotary youth ski trip to Colorado in December. An earlier East Coast excursion to see major landmarks in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. was a key contributor to Enumo’s indoctrination to American beliefs in freedom and democracy.
“The most powerful force in the promotion of international understanding and peace is exposure to different cultures," said Bob Burk, Rotary International Youth Exchange officer. “The world becomes a smaller, friendlier place when we learn that all people — regardless of nationality — desire the same basic things — a safe, comfortable environment that allows for a rich and satisfying life for our children and ourselves.”
Through an application process, the Rotary presents youth with the opportunity to go to another country and learn how other people eat, work and think to lend a broader perspective of the world with the intent of strengthening international peace, friendship and understanding.
After almost 30 years of coordinating the program in central Oklahoma, Burk is transitioning duties to others with Terri Ventress and Ted Smith serving on the state committee, too. Burk said it’s always an enriching experience for everybody and “they become our friends.” The Rotary Exchange program is just the beginning for many students whether in-bound or out-bound. One former exchange student, Dorte Hinrichs of Germany is one of the many that stays in touch with Burk.
“She is now an interpreter for the head of state in Germany, Mrs. (Angela) Merkel,” Burk said.
Two Stillwater area students are abroad now with Thomas Step in Germany and Chance Bloomfield of Blackwell in Japan. Karlotta Altmickel, an exchange student from Germany, is staying with Thomas Step’s parents, D.L. and Cheryl Step here in Stillwater. Two other Stillwater students, Aubrey Huff and Chandler Norman, are scheduled to go abroad for the 2013-2014 school year.
“The way to build a more just and peaceful world begins when people from different countries meet and learn about each other and begin to understand each other, “ Burk said.
However, the learning process doesn’t end with the students as the host families make a big contribution to the program.
“The exchange doesn’t just involve me but everybody who is connected to me,” Enumo said. “We become a member of a new family.”
“It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — and takes real bravery to get on an airplane and go live with another family,” host mother Wilson said. “But, it’s just a fabulous experience to be able to take a trip, see another culture - and be invited in.”
She encourages others to host exchange students as you “open your heart — and wonderful things can happen” emphasizing these “are connections you make for life.”
Enumo believes spending a year as an exchange student can really change a person.
“This year taught me that every experience in your life is important. Sometimes you have to take risks for better or worse in order to live the life you want,” he said. “It is so interesting to see how different we all are yet at the same time we are exactly the same and have so much in common.”
Although it is a fun difference, this year he also learned to love Brazil.
“I learned to appreciate the things I have back home — there’s nothing better than a mother’s hug,” Enumo said.
He didn’t expect to miss his family so much or to spend this year realizing how much his country means to him. Enumo has decided the people in his life wherever he is living are infinitely more important than which dot on the map he temporarily calls his home.
“Small choices can make a huge difference. We just need to believe and not give up on things that we want,” Enumo said “I know it is just one year in a life time — but it’s one year that may change a lot of things.”