Each morning, Melina Matthys steps into a classroom at Flandreau High School and works at something she has never done before.
She takes out a piano book and starts to play. It’s a new skill in a new class in a new country for the 18-year old who is one of two foreign exchange students at the school.
Playing piano for the first time is just one of several new experiences for Matthys, who is from Belgium. Her main reason for traveling to the United States for school was to learn about a new culture and travel.
“America was like my dream to come here. I wanted to improve my English,” she said. “I love learning cultures and seeing how people live everywhere.”
Matthys lives with Casey Wilson, Carleen Wild Wilson and their four children at their home in the country west of Flandreau. She is the second exchange student for the couple, who hosted Edu Povea from Spain during the last school year.
“Melina is such a joy to have around. She’s always got a smile on her face – except when she’s really homesick. She’s forever willing to try new things, wants to experience as much of life here as possible while she can,” Wild Wilson said. “She loves to travel, has an open mind, makes friends easily and fits right in with our family.”
She said both students they have hosted have been great additions to their family. “There are always adjustments and challenges and growing pains, but ultimately, we’ve been very blessed with two great kids that we now consider part of our immediate circle.”
Matthys, who played volleyball this fall as a middle hitter, and at 6-foot-1, she is considering trying high jump in track next spring, will stay in Flandreau for the school year. “I love that we have sports in school,” she said, comparing it to her country where sports are played through clubs. Being on a Flandreau team has helped her make friends, too.
After spending her year here, she wants to go to college for a career that allows her to travel. She comes from a town smaller than Flandreau in her home country, has been to the Black Hills and plans to visit Los Angeles and Chicago while here.
Families in the United States are busy but always seem to make time to sit down and eat together or spend time together, she said. She amazed by the generosity of people in the community. “People are really kind when they don’t know people,” she said.
Her family at home includes her father, who is an air traffic controller, and her mother, who has a job working with medical records. She also has an older sister.
Matthys is getting comfortable with being away from home and life with the Wilsons and the students in Flandreau. “At the beginning, it was hard. I’m used to it now,” she said.