Wells couple hosting two exchange students
It’s not every day you get the opportunity to have a new sister the same age as you. And while Metawi (also known as Jada) Anukansakun and Ditte Bax, two exchange students residing with Jason and Heather Embry of Wells, may not have a blood relation, they sure seem to be enjoying their overseas sisterly bond.
Jada and Ditte are both 17 years old, and they are both students at United South Central for the year as they study abroad. Jada is from Euedothani, a small village in Thailand, while Ditte is from Bloemendaal a medium-sized city in the Netherlands.
Jada’s family, including her mother Nanchaiee and father Iatthaphong, own and run a restaurant in their village. Jada says she hopes to continue studying food and cuisine in order to help her family’s restaurant continue in the future. She says she is interested in baking breads and pastries most of all.
For Ditte’s family back home, her mother, Hinrika, is a theatre producer while her dad, Floris, works in the steel industry. Ditte has technically already graduated high school back at home in the Netherlands, and has pursued a career path much like that of her mother theatre and movie production.
“Before I came here, I thought high school in America was going to be like Disney’s High School Musical,” says Ditte.
“Me too,” adds Jada.
“I thought being here would be a lot like many American movies,” Ditte says. “And some parts it’s like the movies and some parts it’s not.”
Minus the spontaneous outbreaks in choreographed song and dance, both girls say high school at USC is a pretty great experience.
At home, Jada’s school is comprised of about 500 students while Ditte’s school has about 1,200 students. Jada shares that her small school has much more strict rules about what students wear and how they appear.
“We cannot dye our hair or paint our nails, we wear uniforms, and we have a lot of rules and manners that we have to follow,” Jada shares, showing her recently dyed hair. “I am excited I get to dye my hair here. It is fun.”
“Our school, not so much strict,” laughs Ditte.
But at USC, it suits both of the girls just fine. The two teenagers are also involved in the same activities at USC they both participated in the fall musical production of “Aladdin Jr.,” and are both on the girl’s basketball team. Ditte is also a member of the USC tennis team.
Outside of the school, the girls still have a pretty busy schedule, and that’s thanks to their host mom, Heather, whose family has hosted an exchange student every single year since she was nine years old.
While Heather has local connections in the area, she moved to Colorado some time ago, and recently returned to the area to take care of her father before he passed away. Jason and Heather have three children of their own Matthew, 25, Perrin, 19, and Jaesa, who is 16.
To say Jason and Heather keep their exchange student guests busy the entire time they are in the United States is probably an understatement. Jada and Ditte have already gone to the Minnesota State Fair, Valleyfair, the Mall of America and Sea Quest, and since both girls will be staying in Wells until the 4th of July, they are also planning a trip to other states like Utah, Missouri, and Colorado where Heather’s husband Jason and his family own horses and hiking trails in the mountains, and it is said that Disneyland is also on the docket for the girls.
“We’re also thinking of going to the Polar Plunge near Eden Prairie this winter,” adds Heather.
As the two teenagers exchange glances, it seems obvious the girls do not know what the Polar Plunge is, it is explained that people willingly jump into frozen lake water and risk their lives doing so but for a good cause.
“I would not do that,” laughs Jada. “It is cold for me here without being in frozen water.”
Jada’s home in Thailand is a tropical climate hot, humid, and absolutely no snow. So, this winter has been an experience for her.
“My advice to other exchange students is to bring a coat and lots of sweaters and pants,” she says. “The snow is very beautiful, but it is very cold.”
“My advice is to be open-minded and be neutral in your thoughts,” says Ditte. “Back in the Netherlands, we are not very political or this or that side, we are in things together, so it has been very different seeing and hearing other people’s strong opinions about one side or another.”
Ditte says the thing that surprised her the most about her stay so far is the amount of school spirit USC has.
“We have dress up days, and the students cheer and make signs for their classmates on the sports teams and they support each other in their activities,” says Ditte. “It is really cool to see all of the students come together like that.”
For Heather, hosting exchange students is more than just a hobby, it is a calling. She plays a special role as a host parent she is an emergency placement home. That means if any exchange student has a hard time connecting with their current host family, Heather and her family step in and make sure the student has somewhere to stay. At one point while living in Colorado, the Embrys hosted seven exchange students at one time.
Heather suggests if someone is interested in hosting an exchange student, to get their applications in early, and find an exchange program that works for the host family.
“The sooner you get the process started, the sooner you have access to pick the student you want to come and live with you,” she says. “Having a good program and good coordinators makes the process so easy. I’ve been very lucky to have such incredible students each year. It’s not every day you get the opportunity to grow your family by choice,” she laughs.
Now, in Wells, a family has grown to hold two more daughters, and for Jada and Ditte, a new sister.