By: Peggy Purser Freeman
“It was a God thing,” Kim Schouten said as we talked about her newest child. Kim and Gerrit Schouten grew up in Stephenville, dated in high school and then married in 2000. Kim works in the Stephenville Independent School District nursing department. Gerrit Schouten spent his youth on a dairy farm. Today he gives back to the agricultural world as the Credit Office President of Lone Star Ag Credit Bank, where he lends funds for ag needs—farms, ranches, cattle and equipment.
Kim and Gerrit live the full life, balancing their work schedule with two very active teenagers. Tyler, a freshman at SHS, plays football and basketball. He stays involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In FFA Tyler participates in Chapter Conducting, a leadership program. He is already taking leadership on the field as a quarterback of the Stephenville freshman team. The Schouten’s seventh-grade daughter, Karlee, plays volleyball. Both teens stay active in First Baptist Church youth choir and youth group.
The question for Kim and Gerrit is, “Why did you want another teenager?” Kim answered, “The Student Travel Schools (STS) Foundation Regional Director, Mike Carroll, is also the Assistant Athletic Director and High School Athletic Trainer, and he and his wife are good friends of ours. They have had exchange students for several years. He kept sending out Facebook posts about needing host families for the Foreign Exchange program. Everyday he would post a picture of kids that still needed a place for this year, but I wasn’t really interested.”
Meanwhile in Bordeaux, France, Leo Delpon waited patiently for a host family. “I wanted to learn your language,” Leo explained. “It is very important in my country to learn English. I wasn’t at all afraid to come to the USA because I know I have to learn English for a good career.” Leo was born in Vietnam and adopted by French parents.
In late July, Leo’s picture popped up in Kim’s Facebook posts. “It just jumped off the page at me,” she said. “And I knew we were supposed to have him stay in our home. I would say it was a God thing. That was a Tuesday when we decided. By Friday, we were approved, and two weeks later he was here.”
For Gerrit and Kim, Leo is the perfect third child. “We joke around a lot in our family and he fits right in. He is so social. It probably wouldn’t work if he didn’t like to joke around, because that’s what our family does.” Kim and Gerrit laughed as they talked and Tyler and Leo carried on a serious arm wrestling match. “The first day was crazy. Leo’s plane was scheduled to arrive on Thursday. Then it was supposed to get in at eleven Friday night. It was one in the morning before it finally arrived. We were all so tired. Leo and Tyler clicked really fast.” Kim laughed. She does that a lot. “He fit right in. He had earplugs in for music and he started singing on the ride home. When we drove by Six Flags, I said, ‘Leo those are roller coasters,’ and he was like, ‘Wowwww!’ He was so excited about everything. It was four in the morning before we got home to Stephenville.”
A social, outgoing personality makes coming to a county of strangers easy, and Leo is all that and more. Everybody knows and loves him. Recently he was elected runner up for junior class favorite.
“Leo’s appreciation for cultures and a world outside of Stephenville has changed our family,” Gerrit added. “There is a difference in education here.”
Leo jumped in, “I love having time, not to study all the time. I’m playing soccer and cross country.” He is also a flag runner for the high school football games. When Leo talks about meeting Tyler, you can hear admiration in his voice. “When I met Tyler, he told me he was quarterback, and I was like ‘Wowww!’ because in France the quarterback is famous.”
“And,” Leo said, “It is my first time to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.”
“And Halloween,” Tyler added with a wicked laugh. “At the haunted house, Leo screamed like a girl.”
“The haunted house was scary,” Leo admitted. “But I was a man.”
The Schouten family dynamics flow with laughter and praise. Kim and Gerrit both parent with ease and a great deal of love. Kim shared one of her favorite family moments. “Leo loves scary movies. One day he had watched movies all day long, and Tyler hides in Leo’s closet and at just the right time, Tyler jumps out. Leo came running.”
Karlee said, “At first I wanted a girl exchange student, but now Leo is like my brother.” Karlee has taken her turn at surprising Leo. “He was gone, and I put a mask on and hid. When he came back, I jumped out.”
“My favorite memory with Leo,” Gerrit continued, “was Leo’s second day. The surprise came in a friendly game of table tennis. (We can’t call it Ping-Pong.) He disappeared to his room and came out with his secret weapon. He travels with his own table tennis paddle. He destroyed me. Leo played on a national table tennis team in France. He’s got a wicked table tennis serve.”
“I haven’t ever had a brother,” Tyler said. “We come home, and we wrestle. We have so much in common: lifting, sports and arm wrestling.” Tyler couldn’t wait to explain Leo’s ability to be on time and focused. “One Sunday afternoon, we rushed him to practice. I stayed to throw a football around with my friends. So, here he is running in khaki pants and his backpack still on, running four miles holding a piece chicken in one hand and a Dr. Pepper in the other.”
Life in the USA brings different experiences for Leo. Kim shared a few. “The first week we were checking out at the store and he asked, ‘Why are you talking to the cashier?’ I explained that friendly might just be a Texas thing.”
“In the US, the amount of food you get in restaurants is a huge amount and it’s weird not having wine with meals. People are friendly. In France, people are not so friendly,” Leo said.
Kim confirmed the word, ‘Y’all’ is creeping into Leo’s language.
“I didn’t go to church much in France,” Leo continued. “Church is very, very cool here. In church in the USA, there are a lot of songs that you can feel something special.”
“Leo is teaching us some French customs,” Gerrit said. “He recently made a French crepe with chocolate inside.”
According to the Schoutens, it’s easy to be a host family. “The process with STS Foundation is easy and simple,” Kim explained. “Mike Carroll’s main advice, ‘Treat them like part of the family’ is so true. Leo has chores just as Karlee and Tyler.”
“I wash dishes.” Happiness seems to bubble out of Leo. “I clean my room, mow, clean the car, and I ran the vacuum the other day.”
Kim ended our visit with, “It’s easy hosting an exchange student like Leo, because he is easy to love. It amazes me that in such a short amount of time, he has become one of my kids. He’s like a third child.”
Photos taken by Art & Soul Photography