Two teenagers from Europe have been in Texas long enough to develop a love for Wal-Mart, target practice and Hot Pockets. Now, they are both looking for a home — for the next school year.
Aziz Yuzer, 16, from Germany, and Joeran Van Slooten, 18, from Holland are part of a program that offers international students the opportunity to experience high school studies in the United States for one academic year.
And now, the boys are looking for families to act as hosts for the next 10 months.
“Coming to America is something I have always wanted to do,” Van Slooten said. “I hope I find a family that is nice and likes to do things together.”
“ I wanted to see if life in high school is like what I have seen in films,” Yuzer said. “Finding a family that likes to have fun would be cool. As long as they care about me, I am good.”
Both boys agreed another incentive is the opportunity to improve their English skills.
After arriving in Abilene on Aug. 1, the students were received, or welcomed, by community representatives Jake and Tosha Merryman of Cross Plains.
“They are staying with us until we can place them with a host family,” Tosha Merryman said.
Being approved as a host family includes personal interviews with the Merrymans, an application packet and a criminal background check.
“If you can’t pass [criminal background check], don’t even bother,” Tosha Merryman said. “Part of my job is to ensure that students are placed in the best situation possible — and the most enjoyable. The boys’ families back home also have to approve the host family that is chosen, which makes the situation better for everyone.”
Each student in the program is required to bring $300 for each month they are in the U.S., Tosha Merryman said.
“With each one having their own money, the whole experience is easier,” Tosha Merryman said. “If they want to purchase clothing, snacks, or anything else, they will be able to take care of that themselves.”
Contact with their families in their home countries is a personal responsibility, Tosha Merryman said.
“They each have their own cell phone and laptop computer. We recommend they call home at least once a month,” she said.
Jake Merryman said there is a financial benefit for the host families of each student.
“The kids can be claimed as dependents when a family goes to do their income taxes,” he said.
Jake Merryman said he would like to see the two placed with a family in the Brownwood Independent School District.
“I grew up in and graduated from Cross Plains, but there are so many more opportunities in Brownwood that would be better for them,” Merryman said.
After a tour of Brownwood High School last week, Yuzer and Van Slooten decided, if taken in by a Brownwood family, the classes and extracurricular activities they would like to schedule.
“I would really like to be able to take a business course,” Van Slooten said. “And also do tennis and soccer. I like American football, but I think I would not be good in it.”
Yuzer, standing at 6-foot-6, said he does want to play football.
“American football is a cool sport and I want to do it, and basketball too,” he said.
Academically, Van Slooten said there are enormous differences between the educational systems in the U.S. and Holland.
“In Holland, there are no grades,” Van Slooten said. “You just study until you are 18. Plus, there are counselors in America to help you with things, which is really nice.”
Yuzer said he too prefers the American system.
“The high school here is better because you can choose what classes you want. In Germany, you are told what you take.”
Since arriving, the students have been exposed to many different activities.
“We have been horseback riding,” Yuzer said. “That was fun. And we have gone to malls, played video games and did some target practice.”
“Everything is so fun,” Van Slooten added. “I think everything is very different from Holland. There are things like hunting that you can’t do back home.”
Yuzer said Texans are friendly.
“It’s really cool,” Yuzer said. “I like the people here. They are nice, friendly and warm to each other. In Germany, you don’t see that so much.”
Favorite spots, thus far, include Heartland Mall, the Abilene Mall and Wal-Mart.
“I like these places,” Van Slooten said. “It is interesting to look around and see things you don’t see in Holland, especially all in one place. I am really excited to see what happens at Halloween and Christmas.”
If a host family is not located, the teens will spend the school year in Cross Plains, Tosha Merryman said.
Anyone interested in hosting either or both of the students may call the Merrymans at (325) 330-0816.