After hosting Mexican foreign exchange student Juan Carlos "J.C." Cortes last year, retirees Butch and Suzi Dooley of rural Nokomis didn't think they would do it all over again this year because, according to Butch, they didn't think they'd be fortunate twice in a row.
"We swore we wouldn't do it again because we liked J.C. so well," he said.
However, all that changed with just one phone call.
J.C., who is also spending the 2012-2013 school year with the Dooleys (this time as a guest), called them in late August asking for a favor.
He had a friend in Mexico, Beatriz Verastegui, who was participating in the foreign exchange student program this year. She was originally placed in Missouri, but after spending a week there she didn't like it.
Beatriz called J.C. and asked if he knew anyone she could stay with temporarily, and the rest is history.
"When J.C. called and asked if she could stay with us, I said 'of course," Suzi said. "We called John Heck [ISE advisor] on a Saturday to get the okay, and Beatriz was here on Sunday. It was only supposed to be a temporary stopover."
That temporary stopover has turned into a whole school year as 16-year-old Beatriz continues to live with the Dooleys and attends Nokomis High School as a junior.
Beatriz also hails from J.C.'s hometown of Saltillo, Mexico, and she has one brother and one sister. She decided to get involved in the foreign exchange student program so she could expand her horizon.
"I want to know other cultures and more people, as well as improve my English," she said.
Beatriz, whose native language is Spanish, took English classes in Mexico and although she had some trouble keeping up with the language once she was in America, she learned quickly.
"By talking to her you thought she knew a lot, but privately she would tell you she didn't understand, especially her teachers who talked fast," Suzi said. "She's good at her studies and is quick to catch on."
At Nokomis High School, Beatriz is enrolled in English, biology, geometry, P.E., study hall, foods, multimedia, and her favorite class, history. She is active in the science and fine arts club and may participate in softball and soccer this spring.
In Saltillo, Beatriz attends eight classes a day, starting at 7:20 a.m. and ending at 2:15 p.m. The junior high consists of seventh through ninth grades, while the high school is tenth through 12th grades. The grading system is much harder as students are required to make C's in order to pass.
In Nokomis, she enjoys fast food, stuffed shells, and eating at her favorite Mexican restaurant in Springfield. She doesn't, however, enjoy the colder weather. Since the weather in Saltillo is warm all year round, most people don't have furnaces or air conditioners, and if the weather is ever freezing the schools close down.
Here, Beatriz likes to hang out with her friends, spend time with the Dooleys, and watch movies all day. She is also learning to appreciate the small town atmosphere of Nokomis compared to Saltillo, which has a population of 800,000.
"It was a big change, but I like it. It feels good to be driving and not have anyone behind you," she said.
Beatriz recently had the opportunity to visit Chicago over the Christmas holiday when her family came to visit for two weeks. That was a whole other experience for the Dooleys since only one of the visitors, Beatriz's cousin, spoke English.
"The Spanish was flying," Suzi said. "We learned through having them visit that the translation of languages makes you tired. It's not a physical thing, but a mental thing."
"You read that a lot of communication is nonverbal, and that is very true," said Butch.
Beatriz, who will return to Mexico in June, stated that she has enjoyed her experience as a foreign exchange student more than she thought she would and plans on visiting the Dooleys every year.
"One way or another we'll see each other, whether she comes here or we go there," Suzi said.
For the Dooleys, the experience of hosting two foreign visitors has been twice the fun.
"We were very fortunate with these kids, and we fell in love with them," Suzi said. "We laugh and tease each other just like a family. It'll be hard when they leave."
According to Suzi, there was a higher power working in their lives in order for her and Butch to have such a great experience.
"God had His hand in it," she said. "We didn't ask for J.C. last year or Beatriz this year, and they both took a crooked path getting here."
Although Butch joked that hosting two students was "twice the headaches," he has also enjoyed the fun experience. Whether or not the Dooleys try it for a third time next year will come down to a vote.
"This year, I voted no and she [Suzi] voted yes. It was the same last year," Butch said.
Only time will tell whether Suzi gets her way again or not, but she is certain that the experiences were worth it.
"We've become our own family unit," she said. "I wouldn't trade the last two years for anything."