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Exchange student gets plenty of mileage out of stay

March 14, 1999

Belgian Exchange studentBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




HANCOCK- Stephane Journee isn't allowed to drive a car, but he's getting all the mileage he can out of his stay in the United States.

Sponsored by the Hancock Rotary Club, Journee traveled from his hometown of Charleroi, Belgium, to Hancock, U.S.A., last August. He is staying with married couple Anne Hepburn and Bob Gebbia about three miles west of town while attending Hancock Middle-Senior High School.

But Journee's stay hasn't been confined by the boundaries of his host town. He's already visited Ocean City, Md., and Washington, D.C., where he said he was surprised to see Congress in action.

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"I see it on TV in Europe," Journee said. "I never thought I'd go one day."

He will fly to Las Vegas with his host family in March, and tour several West Coast states. A trip to New York City is slated for later this Spring, said Journee.

The United States is the 10th or 11th country he's visited. Not much can hold the independent 18-year-old back.

Within a day of arriving in Hancock, Journee wanted to know that he could get into town without having to ask for a ride, Hepburn said. Exchange students are not permitted to operate moving vehicles, according to Rotary International rules, Journee added.

Despite the blistering August heat, he mounted a bicycle and began his trek to Hancock, Hepburn said.

The mountains stopped him.

"His face was beet red when he came back in and collapsed on the sofa," Hepburn said.

"I didn't try to do that, again," Journee said.

Instead, Journee said his host family drove him to summer sporting events in town, where he made friends.

Friends with cars.

The mountains, the lack of mass transportation in the Hancock area, and the number of churches in a single U.S. town, offer a big contrast to Charleroi, Journee said.

Unlike tiny Hancock, his hometown has a population of some 200,000. It is a sprawling, industrial city that produces Caterpillar machinery, glass and steel. A "real sports city," Charleroi is home to a Division One soccer team, and European table tennis champions, Journee said.

And it is "very flat."

In Belgium, most Hancock-sized towns have a soccer field, a small store, and only one church, which is usually Catholic, he said.

Conversations among strangers riding a public bus together are rare in his home city, Journee said. In Hancock, "the people are easy-going, they speak to each other," he said.

It's what he likes best about the town.

And school is much easier, said Journee, a member of the school choir and track teams.

An honorary member of the National Honor Society, Journee said he never studies for tests. A Hancock teacher told him his math was good enough for him to eventually study engineering, but in Belgium, "I could never become an engineer," Journee said.

He said the some 1,500 students in his private school were pushed towards academic excellence. Sports fell in the realm of the community, not the learning arena.

He drew a line in the air two feet off the floor.

"That's how much we have to study for one test in Belgium," Journee said.

Fluent in French and decent in Dutch, Journee said his English has greatly improved since he first arrived in the U.S. He said he hopes to "speak very well English," and make the state championships for outdoor track before he departs for Belgium in July.

His host family will miss the teenager who plies them with Belgian chocolates, makes them laugh, and teaches them new things everyday.

"He's actually become our son," said Gebbia. "He's part of the family."

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