Paredis was officially welcomed by Mayor Mike Bernier who organized a flag-raising ceremony this afternoon at Peace Park in her honour. The Belgium flag will fly at the park for the 10 months she is expected to stay in the city.
“It’s nice, because otherwise nobody knows there is a program for exchange students,” said Paredis of the welcoming ceremony.
The 17-year-old is from the small town of Limbourg in the province of Liege, in a primarily Dutch region of Belgium. She said she learned English in school but her native language is Flemish. She is a well-traveled young person, having journeyed all throughout Europe, and she even came to Canada last year to visit friends in Nelson, B.C.
“I like Canada,” she said, adding she enjoys the culture and the landscape.
Paredis will be entering Grade 12 at South Peace Secondary School. She said he favourite subjects are English and art. She said her hobbies include gymnastics – as both an instructor and gymnast herself – and snowboarding, the later which she hopes to do this winter.
She said she will staying in touch with her family back home through Skype and Facebook, but she hasn’t had time to miss them yet as she has been too busy since arriving in Dawson Creek two weeks ago. She said she has already been camping, and while it’s not her first excursion into the great outdoors, she said the landscape was very different and the experience was very enjoyable.
She added she leaves for Calgary tomorrow before returning to start school next week.
Paredis will be staying with three different host families during her stay here, first with the family of John and Shari Kurjata. Shari was at the flag-raising ceremony and said she has really enjoyed hosting exchange students over the years, most of whom she still keeps in contact with.
Bernier himself has hosted several exchange students, and has acted as counselor for both incoming and outgoing exchange students, during his time as Rotarian.
“It’s been a big part of my life,” he said. “A lot of the exchange students have lived with me over the last seven or eight years, to the point where a lot of them have returned. I have had one student who has returned four times from Austria to come back to Dawson Creek because he just loves it here.”
Coincidentally, the last student he hosted four years ago was from Belgium as well, and that student is actually returning this November to visit.
“That’s something that’s really exciting about this program – it’s not just a student who comes from around the world to live with you, you gain a new child and a member of your family,” said Bernier.
He said the program has been great in opening his family’s eyes to the world and to different perspectives on it. He gave one example of a conversation he had with an exchange student he was hosting from Brazil about child labour. He said while Canadians might view child labour as deplorable, in other countries it’s viewed as necessary in order to support families.
About five years ago, Bernier worked with his fellow Rotarians to put a couple of flag poles and a plaque at Peace Park to celebrate the exchange program and welcome incoming students. He added it is great to be able to welcome Paredis to the community.
“I think Katrine is going to have a great year here in Dawson Creek, and for the families she is going to be spending time with, hats off and thanks to them, and I know they are going to have a great time as well.”
Last year Dawson Creek hosted two students from Brazil and Switzerland, respectively, as part of the Rotary exchange program.