Smithfield Herald

Clayton High welcomes exchange student

Clockwise from top left, exchange student Maxime Robinet and hosts Aaron Grogan, Carley Windley and Anna Fitzgerald.
Clockwise from top left, exchange student Maxime Robinet and hosts Aaron Grogan, Carley Windley and Anna Fitzgerald.

Maxime Robinet is in for the greatest adventure of his young life.

Last month, he boarded a plane in his native France and traveled more than 4,000 miles to experience life as an American teenager.

Hosted by the Clayton and Cleveland School Rotary clubs, Robinet will complete his junior year at Clayton High School.

In many ways, Clayton is a far cry from his hometown of Amelécourt, a village in northeastern France with fewer than 150 people.

“Where I live, it’s cold,” Robinet said. “Here I like the hot temperature. This is very different from where I’m from.”

Robinet will split his year living with two local families recruited by the Rotary clubs. It is their responsibility to provide room and board, supervision and a willingness to share their daily lives.

“The host families must commit to get the student to school, feed them and offer to give them the great experience of being a teenager in America,” said Rotarian Hensley Scott, who helped coordinate the visit.

Last spring, Scott placed fliers around downtown Clayton seeking a host family. Anna Fitzgerald, who works at Vantage South Bank on Main Street, saw the flier and was interested. She went home and pitched the idea to her boyfriend, Aaron Grogan, and her daughter, Carly Windley, who said yes.

After a background check, the Rotary clubs accepted Fitzgerald and her family, and they began preparing for Robinet’s arrival.

Fitzgerald said the language barrier was hard at first, but she soon learned that laughter and charades need no translation. She was also pleasantly surprised to find her three years of high school French came flooding back.

“It’s been a challenge communicating and learning what he likes and dislikes,” Fitzgerald said. “We use a lot of simple words and sign language, but now he’s becoming a little more comfortable using words in English.”

The family has bonded by watching movies and television shows with French subtitles, including “Finding Nemo,” “Big Bang Theory” and one of the Batman films.

“It’s been interesting to watch TV that way because then we can all feel included,” said Carly Windley, a seventh-grader at Archer Lodge Middle School.

Since starting classes at Clayton High, Robinet has adapted quickly to life in America. He recently attended his first high school football game and has joined the school’s crosscountry team. Hot dogs, cheeseburgers and tacos have become some of his new favorite foods.

It’s a big difference from his life in Amelécourt, where he spent Monday through Friday living at school and attending classes until 6 p.m. At Clayton High School, his course load includes art, physics and French III. His dismissal time is 2:20 p.m.

“Maxime is like a sponge,” Fitzgerald said. “The simple things are so big for him. He is constantly looking around and soaking everything in.”

The family took Robinet on his first fishing expedition over Labor Day weekend and also has plans for an outing to Busch Gardens. He will spend the second half of the school year with the family of Rotary member Kelly Norman, owner of downtown’s Wagner House.

“This program is big on making sure that the student is exposed to as many things as possible,” Fitzgerald said. “I have no regrets. This is something I would absolutely do again.”