Saturday 15 September 2012

Class reunion reunites Italian exchange student with American 'brother'

In the fall of 1961, Mario Rosario DiMonte, sailed from his home in Bari, Italy to the shores of the United States. He traveled by bus and train from the east coast to Dodge City where he was welcomed by the LaCroix family. It was the first time a family in Dodge City had hosted an exchange student under the American Field Service program, and the experience left lasting memories for all concerned.
In a story in the Aug. 26 issue of the Daily Globe, Mrs. LaCroix is quoted as saying "The entire family is looking forward to this new and wonderful experience with Rosario."
DiMonte and his exchange brother, Joe LaCroix, were both entering their senior year. Vickie LaCroix would be a freshman.
The trip to the United States fulfilled a long-term dream for DiMonte, who knew he was heading into cowboy country.

DiMonte and LaCroix are both in Dodge City this weekend to participate in their class reunion.
The Globe asked them to recall their senior year.
Here are their thoughts, sent via E-mail:
Joe LaCroix
Q: What do you remember about your family making the decision to invite an exchange student?
A: In 1961 I was at choir practice when the choir director announced that there had been a committee formed to sponsor a foreign exchange student for the next school year.  I went home and discussed the issue with my parents.  They thought it would be a great idea to host the first foreign exchange student in our home.

Q: How did the experience compare to the way you imagined it?
A: I had no preconceived notions as to what to expect upon sharing my senior year with an exchange student.  Rosario and I quickly bonded and shared a room and the school experiences. I had thought that there might be a language barrier but after a week or two all traces of that disappeared and he began to understand American slang.  We truly considered each other brothers.  He was able to establish many friendships with schoolmates that have been lifelong relationships. Rosario is a great fan of American jazz and I expanded my music appreciation experience by changing my listening habits.  He was a brilliant student and helped me more with my homework than I did him with his.  My parents had adjustments to make in accepting additional responsibilities in parenting.  Rosario made this easy for them by being such a good guy.  

Q: Looking back, what do you value most about the experience?
A: What I value most is what I learned about the Italian culture and how much like our American way of life it really is.  I have applied those lessons to my relationships with people of other cultures throughout my lifetime.  I learned that nationality, religion, and race are not as important as who a person is and how they conduct their lives.  Friendships are more important than differences in nationality, race, language, or religion and one can truly gain life rewarding experiences by learning about other cultures.
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