Lyndonville family feels enriched by hosting exchange student

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 July 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – The Heck family in Lyndonville hosted Swantje Lagediek, 17, of Germany since Thanksgiving eve. “Swan” returned home on Monday. Pictured with Swan, middle, include: T.J., Bonnie, Lindsay and Tom.

LYNDONVILLE – A Lyndonville family said an emotional good-bye on Monday to a foreign exchange student, who was accepted into the family as a sibling and daughter the past eight months.

The Heck family didn’t expect they would ever host a foreign exchange student. But in November, a day before Thanksgiving, they welcomed Swantje Lagediek into their home.

“Swan” is from a small city, Bremen, in Germany. She immediately connected with Lindsay Heck, 17, and received lots of friendly teasing from Lindsay’s brother T.J., 22.

“This was one of the best things we have ever done,” Bonnie Heck said at the family’s home on Platten Road. “She fit right in with us.”

When Swan envisioned spending time in the United States, she immediately thought of New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“But a small town is better,” she said. “A huge city is too busy.”

Swantje Lagediek, left, is pictured with her “sister,” Lindsay Heck.

She experienced famed tourism sites at Niagara Falls, Boston and Fort Worth, Texas. Locally she laughed about the Shoe Tree in Lyndonville, a row of four trees that have hundreds of shoes nailed to the bark or hanging from branches. Swan tossed her own pair of shoes into one of the trees.

She took a year of classes at Lyndonville, and enjoyed photography, digital literacy, art and a forensics class. She ran track and worked the spotlight in the school musical.

“I was open to new things,” she said.

Swan is used to public transportation in Germany, taking a bus or train to most destinations. Some days, she preferred to just walk to the Hecks’ home after school.

The annual Fourth of July parade passed by the Hecks’ and Swan joined then in their front lawn, watching the candy-throwing spectacle.

Lindsay and Swan were born two weeks apart, and they have connected like sisters. The two often joined in pranking Lindsay’s older brother. T.J. returned the banter. He also taught Swan the mechanical workings of cars and lawn mowers.

Swan’s parents visited Lyndonville about three weeks ago and the families felt a sense of camaraderie.

“We highly recommend it,” Mr. Heck, a state Department of Transportation employee, said about hosting an exchange student. “It has broadened our horizons. It made us realize there is a whole big dynamic world out there.”