During this school year at Van-Far High School, foreign exchange student Enrique Caceres wasted little time in making friends and taking part in many of the activities the district has to offer.
From participating in FFA activities like creed speaking and greenhand to playing football and basketball, the Paraguay native has quickly made Vandalia his second home.
“Before I came here, one of the things I knew about the U.S. is they speak English,” Caceres told the Van-Far R-I School Board in his presentation at their meeting on February 16. “When you come to a country and you’re here and you really know (learn) about (the) country…It’s a wonderful experience.”
Caceres arrived in the U.S. as part of the AFS Intercultural Programs organization through the host family of Ralph and Christy Nelson of Vandalia.
The Nelsons picked up Caceres from the airport in St. Louis on August 12, 2011 and two days later he was introduced quickly to the U.S. agricultural community as the group traveled to Sedalia to show livestock during the Missouri State Fair.
He later enjoyed spending time with Ralph Nelson on the combine during the harvest season as large farming equipment is not common in Paraguay.
Since then, the Nelsons took him to visit the St. Louis Arch and gave him the experience of professional sports in America that included attending games for the St. Louis Rams and St. Louis Blues. Caceres was also treated to the sport of baseball in watching the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series with the Nelsons. He expects to play baseball during the spring season and may see time with the track and field team due to his success in Paraguay as a hammer thrower.
“I love the family,” said Caceres about the Nelsons.
Christy Nelson said friends of hers had once hosted a student from Sweden, her family became interested, applied online, and was eventually accepted.
For the Nelsons, a farming family, Caceres was a perfect fit. Caceres has worked on his grandfather’s farm in Paraguay and helped with his parent’s business that is similar to a Co-op in the states.
He was also like the Nelson’s high school junior Ryan Nelson, being the only brother among a household of sisters.
“It’s been fantastic,” Christy Nelson said. “…He loves being on the farm…He’s fit in so well with our family. It’s been great for him and Ryan. They are the only boys, both have sisters, and both like sports.”
She said the Nelsons have had the opportunity to meet Caceres’ family through Skype. Caceres’ sisters were also AFS stu-dents as one stayed with a family in Arkansas and the other found a place in Belgium.
“It’s been wonderful to get to know about his family life and meet his family,” Christy Nelson added.
“…It’s been really good for the whole community because they realize its a bigger world than Vandalia. Having him in school has opened their eyes.”
Caceres is scheduled to head back to Paraguay at the end of June.
Christy Nelson added that she hopes other members of the community might be interested in hosting a foreign exchange student to continue the rich Vandalia history with the AFS program.
“I would like to see some others in the community have the experience in time to have an exchange student,” she added.
More on his presentation
During his presentation to the school board, Caceres talked about Ao Po’i, Nanduti (spider thread handmade creations), and talked about clothes worn for special occasions, and music that includes a harp and a guitar.
He also said he misses the food from his homeland.
“I really want to cook around here so people know the food of my country but it’s hard to find (it here),” he said.
Caceres also told the school board that he felt it would be nice for Van-Far students to have the opportunity to learn a second language at the district.
Board President Kevin Motley concluded by asking if his host Christy Nelson was a good cook and Caceres said “definitely.”
“It’s been a really good experience for our school to have him,” said Van-Far Principal Cindy Pirch.