“Sam? Is that you, Sam?”

Those were my first words when my iPad screen chirped last week. It was, indeed, Samuel Kalashian, calling from Kislovosk, Russia on the Messenger video app. 

Of all the exchange students who spent a year with us, Sam (Selma High Class of 1997) was the only one I had not seen since he left Selma. For a long time, I had wondered where he was and what he was doing.

That’s what made last week’s video call so revelatory. I connected with Sam, we looked each other in the eyes and expressed our affection. Sam’s father died a couple of years ago, and he still calls me “Dad” after more than 20 years.

As our country has some political division related to immigration issues, I try to keep my head straight by embracing the world through my “children” overseas.

That’s why I can’t wait until the Frenchies arrive this week. That would be 1992 Selma High grad Stephane Boudet, his wife Stephanie and sons Alix (15 years old), Gabriel (11) and Henri (5).

They’ll be on a two-week tour of the Western U.S., hitting all the tourist highlights as well as five days with us in Selma.

Valita and I last visited the Boudet family in France in 2017. This week will be Stephane’s first trip to Selma with Stephanie and the boys. (Pre-marriage, he visited us with some friends.)

I recall how much Stephane loved Selma. The surroundings reminded him of his rural farming region of France. He grew up helping his father in the family pig farm, and after college and a few other endeavors, took over the operation a few years ago.

Alongside his brother Sebastien and a few other farmers, Stephane is a partner in a bioenergy generation plant, converting animal and agricultural waste into methane gas that is sold to the power company. 

His year in Selma was a period of growth for Stephane, which is what we always hope for during a student’s exchange year. Likewise, we were impressed with the maturity of our daughter Rusty when she returned from her exchange year in Spain. 

Sam also grew a lot in his year here, as he learned the value of honesty that was lacking in Russia as it tried to evolve into some semblance of capitalism. 

Exchange students also help their American families grow in knowledge and appreciation of other world cultures. 

In addition to Stephane and Sam, a few other young people spent a year with us as exchange students: Suteera from Thailand, Anders from Sweden, Raul from Spain and Aziz from Saudi Arabia.

We kept up with all of them except for Sam, who we seemed to have lost. Then he popped up on Facebook earlier this year. Seeing Sam on my computer screen last week was the icing on the cake. He told me he had lived for awhile in Sacramento, and was now back in Russia working in security.

In our family we often talk about how much richer our lives are from having those students come into our home. All of this reminds me that no matter how much we value money, politics, sports, movies, entertainment and our jobs, relationships are what makes life worth living.

Even relationships from across the world that exist only on a computer screen.

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(Longtime Selma resident Ken Robison is a retired newspaper reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. Selma Stories runs regularlyin The Enterprise.)

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