By Jane Turpin Moore
WORTHINGTON — A desire to improve his English-speaking skills and learn more about U.S. culture drove 19-year-old Arthur Baudet to spend a month in Minnesota five years ago.
But it’s the bond and friendship he forged with the Joe and Laurie Landwehr family of Worthington that has led him to annually revisit this prairie town since then.
“They’re like a second family to me now,” said Baudet of the Landwehrs.
Baudet grew up in Franconville, France — a Parisian suburb only 16 kilometers from that renowned City of Light — with his parents and older sister, Helene. He is currently studying at Versailles in preparation for exams that will enable him to study business at the university level.
After Baudet’s sister, Helene, had a terrific experience with a Minnesota host family in previous years, he decided to follow in her footsteps to the North Star State and happened to be placed with the Landwehrs.
“We got a phone call from a woman who works with the sponsoring organization asking if we wanted a host student for a year,” recalled Nathan Landwehr, 18, a 2013 graduate of Worthington High School. “We didn’t think we could do a year, as both my parents are teachers and I didn’t drive yet, but when she told us about Arthur and said it would only be a month, we decided to do it.”
With Nathan and Baudet so close in age, and a sister (albeit a younger one —Alyssa Landwehr is now 15) also in the mix, the Landwehrs and Baudet clicked.
“That first year, we went to water parks in the Wisconsin Dells, played mini golf and had a lot of fun,” said Baudet, who was then just 14 years old. “We got along well.”
And so Baudet arranged to return the following summer for about the same length of time … and then he came the next summer, and the next, and the next.
“Every time he comes, it just feels so normal, as if he’s been here all year,” commented Nathan.
While the Landwehrs make an effort to go to a few special places when Baudet is in the U.S. (for instance, he’s been to the Okoboji area and the Science Museum in St. Paul), Baudet seems to relish most of all his participation in their regular summer routines.
“I know a lot of Nathan’s friends,” Baudet said with a big smile.
Things like backyard bonfires, casual volleyball games at Centennial Park and fireworks on Independence Day have helped Baudet grow accustomed to Worthington and simple Minnesota traditions over time.
“I like experiencing normal life with the Landwehrs,” he said.
Because Baudet’s family, like many in France, lives in a large apartment complex, he has found the contrast of mostly single-family homes and bounteous green space here somewhat striking.
“At the Landwehrs’, I stay in the basement, which is very nice and has a full bedroom, bathroom and even a kitchen,” said Baudet. “In France, basements are used for cars or storage, and there aren’t very many apartment towers at all in Worthington.”
When asked what American foods Baudet prefers, Nathan teased, “What doesn’t he like?”
Baudet admitted, “I love fast food — triple Whoppers, Big Macs, all kinds of fast food.”
He also finds the French toast at Perkins Restaurant provides a taste of home, saying that entrée is unexpectedly close to authentic.
But although Baudet drinks a lot of coffee in France — he’s a serious student who loves economics and says his studies are “intense,” typically requiring 70 to 80 hours of time weekly and the reason his 2013 stay is a little shorter than in the past — he doesn’t touch the stuff here.
“He’s really into flavored sparkling waters, though, so we stock up on those,” said Nathan.
“I do miss the French bread and croissants and butter,” revealed Baudet.
Surprisingly, in his homeland Baudet has never been to the Louvre Museum, although he has seen the Musee d’Orsay, the Impressionist Museum and the palace at Versailles.
He has, however, been to the Empire Mall in South Dakota’s largest city.
“Arthur is really into shopping, and so am I, so we spent a day shopping in Sioux Falls,” said Nathan of their recent activities.
Baudet is also fascinated with American cars, but he has only spotted his favorite — the Ford Mustang Shelby GT — once in Minnesota, and then in the Twin Cities.
“It’s a very rare car,” he said with a grin.
To date, none of the Landwehrs has had the opportunity to visit Baudet and his family in France, but when the chance finally arises, Nathan is more than ready to explore Paris and surrounding environs with Baudet.
“He’ll have to visit a lot of places,” assured Baudet. “He won’t rest because he won’t have time.”
Both the Landwehrs and Baudet feel they have benefited from the friendship their cultural exchange has cultivated over the past five years.
“Experiencing another language and culture through Arthur — and having a ‘brother’ — has definitely been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,”said Nathan. “And my parents love Arthur.”
Added Baudet, “Exploring other countries, discovering a new culture and learning how life is abroad — these are good things.
“I think it’s important to not just be in your own little world, because it can change your ideas and keep your mind more open.”