Welcome to Revillo, South Dakota
By Jim Young
“How does a trip to Revillo, South Dakota sound?” asked my editor. “Sure, ok?! And where is that exactly?”
I have been to quite a few places in my life, but I don’t think that is one of them.
It was for a story on 12 foreign exchange students, mostly from Asia and Europe who came to this town in the middle of America, population 152, to attend a school which is one building housing 140 students from kindergarten to grade 12.
My day started at 3am to head out for a flight to Minneapolis, followed by another 3 and a half hour drive to the town. First, never trust your GPS getting to Revillo. I made it the first 160 miles in good order but the last 10 miles put me on a makeshift gravel road with farm fields as far as the eyes could see in all directions. When recounting the story to the locals, they had a good laugh. They too were not even sure what “road” I was on.
I was curious as to how the students assimilated into the school and their life after hours. Not only did they have to cross barriers of language, culture and thousands of miles from home but also to adapt to a Midwestern winter climate and the isolation of small town America, where everybody knows everybody.
I met with the principal of the school and was quickly introduced to the students before they broke from lunch and scattered to their classes. It would be hard to get lost, since all of the high school classes are in one hallway.
There was no shortage of activities to fill up their time after the final bell rings for the day. Tina and Amy, two members of the school’s cheer team, took time to teach the younger kids some choreography to the song “Footloose”, followed by a fill of Valentine’s Day spirit by inflating mylar balloons to distribute to student’s lockers and cutting out paper hearts to use as address cards for flowers. It was almost 7pm, hours after the final school day bell had rung and they were still scurrying down the halls as I ran off to visit one of the host families who have invited me into their home. The family sat down to dinner and a prayer was given in thanks for their food, and for having me come into their lives. I was completely taken off guard; we had only just met a couple of minutes earlier. But it had become clear to me that was who they are…a family always reaching out and sharing their home with others.
Hee-hyeon Han, one of the girls from Seoul, referred to her hosts as “second family”. She called them “mom” and “dad”. This was her home and she had no desire to want to leave, though she had spent more than a year in the U.S., away from her family in South Korea.
To see the relationships and bonds they have developed was astonishing. None of the 12 knew each other before coming to the United States in August, but you would never know it. They were so open and tightly knit with each other and their host families after such a short time and to overcome the language was amazing to see.
I was up at 5am the next day to take in the morning bustle of the Hoyles’ household, who were hosting two of the girls, and it was time to celebrate their first Valentine’s Day.
Posing for photos, opening their presents, just like Christmas morning, which they also celebrated for the first time just two months earlier. Joking and playing with their host families even well before sunrise, you would swear that they have been a family their whole lives.
Later that day, a bus load of students headed out to Waverly for a mini tournament with their school’s rival. The cheerleaders and basketball teams were well represented by the town’s new residents
It was a great experience to see how these students explored the new world they found for themselves. Having lived in the United States for the last six years, I sometimes feel like a stranger in my adopted country; a feeling that I don’t think ever crosses their minds.