AFS, a foreign exchange student organization, is running a contest and the winner gets a trip for their former exchange student to visit them back here in the U.S. The winner wins by getting the most votes. We would love to see our student, Rita, so please vote for us so that we can win! Rita has been studying hard in college in Portugal so she could use a little vacation. Voting runs from April 14th and goes through April 28th.

Click here to VOTE:
Just enter your e-mail address on the site and Vote! We’re under state of Ohio#10 The Daugirdas Family and Rita.

Thank You!!!

Below is our experience with our foreign exchange student.

Rita Slider

My stint as a Dad ended last year. Sort of. Our foreign exchange student Rita left to go back to Portugal last June. It was a sad moment, but the joy of having her here was something I’ll cherish forever. I know I’ll be her Dad forever too…her American Dad.

When we initially were talking about having a foreign exchange student we thought it might be best to be a Welcome Family. So instead of having them for the whole school year we would have them for a few months. Not having any kids ourselves we figured we might want to start slow. After all, we are getting a teenager and any parent will tell you they can be a terror. But after talking about it more we thought it was a disservice to not keep them for the whole year.

We didn’t know if we’d end up with a brat or an angel. They have a bio you can read before you pick them, but their real personality could differ from it. You don’t get to chat with them beforehand to see if they are a good match. So you are in the dark a bit. No matter. It wasn’t so much about finding the perfect kid. I was ok with getting one that was a pain. I don’t mind working with people to better themselves. It would be a challenge that has many rewards.

I mentored lots of kids in the inner city and have taught Junior Achievement for many years. I’ve seen kids that needed a lot of work and some that were just awesome. A lot had to do with how their parents raised them and loved them. One child that was mentored had to babysit their siblings all night long through the wee hours of the night and then go to school that same day and that was repeated every night while their parent worked all night. The sibling babysitter was a third-grader. What a shame. Not having both parents made the situation worse.

One time I went to teach a Junior Achievement class and the teacher tells me one student that wasn’t there will be back next week. She said he was in jail for guns and will be getting out. That student like so many others just needed direction and structure and a home where chaos didn’t reign supreme and over the love from that parent or parents. So many kids look for trouble and they find it in gangs because they are accepted there and belong, something a family normally does, but in their lives it didn’t. To them a gang replaced what a mother and father would do.

So seeing this and so many other issues I know how important it is for children to have the right environment to grow to be successful and productive people. So many people are quick to point out how horrible these kids are but do absolutely nothing to make it better. I say get involved. See the issues up front. Help the kids. Teach them. Give them the time. You may make just a small dent to send them on the right path. Some of the comments and letters I received from the kids I’ve mentored and taught validate just that effect on them. So, if you can, take the time in your life to have a positive effect on another child’s life.


Our exchange student Rita also didn’t know what kind of parents she would get. She saw that I was into coupons and saw my web-site and clips from TV segments. She also saw my Facebook avatar was Rerun from the show What’s Happening. She was pretty sure that it wasn’t really me.

Rita Rodrigues of Portugal was born on August 16th at around 100 lbs. and 64 inches in a Home Depot parking lot in Streetsboro coming out of the swing door womb of a bus. She was our first child…an instant teenager.

Yes, the bus stopped there to drop her off. We were told that the bus was 50 minutes away so I figured I had time to stop at Lowes to look for some clearance plant deals. Not one to sit idle I had to find something productive to do while we waited. I found plant deals, but I got a call while I was there that the bus arrived. How could that be I thought. I was only there for about ten minutes. Apparently, the message was misconstrued to us and she was actually 50 minutes past Youngstown. So I missed the birth of our daughter.


Soon after she got here she asked what we wanted to be called. I sternly said Megatron. That night I got a “Good night Megatron!”. She humored me for a while, but then called us Mom and Dad. I wasn’t sure about being called Dad because she had one already, but in time I was more comfortable with being called Dad. We became her Mom and Dad, but we also reverted to other roles like brother and sister and best friend. It was good too since we didn’t have kids and she needed that type of person there at times.

Rita Snowboard

She has a twin brother that also did the AFS (American Field Service) program in California. You’d think that Rita got the short end of the stick by going to Ohio, but she didn’t feel that way. She actually wanted to be in the snow and cold. She sure got a good dose of it with the Polar Vortex this past winter. She said the other kids in the program that were placed in warm weather states were jealous of her because they wanted to be someplace that had snow and cold too.


Why would they want Ohio weather as compared to California? Well, in Portugal the weather is warm so they wanted to experience something different. Rita did and you’d think she’d want to get back to someplace warm. Nope. She said when she visits she wants to come here when it is cold. It makes sense. If you have the same weather year-round you get bored with it. You take it for granted. I enjoy the change of seasons and so did she.

Rita Amish

There was much I learned over the time she was here. A lot had to do with the way kids are nowadays. Back when I grew up when the TV show “Three’s Company” came on the air there was a lot of backlash about that kind of a show being on when kids can watch it. Now anything goes on TV and it shows in the way kids are nowadays. Luckily, Rita was much more mature than her age, but a lot of kids aren’t. So many kids are trying to be adults when they aren’t mature enough. Society isn’t helping by pushing the envelope all the time.

Cat Timeout
Our cat in the Timeout box.
Rita Timeout Box
Rita in the Timeout box.

Some parents try to be their kid’s best friend and not their parent and I could see that too in the way some kids behaved. So without structure and discipline the kid’s has a sense of entitlement and no boundaries.

Sometimes I saw administrators not following through with enough discipline. The kids will wear you down and some administrators buckled. I remember doing a JA class one year and the kids were so good and quiet that I thought I said something wrong. Then a another teacher came in to watch the class while the original one stepped out for the period and it went from quiet to absolute bedlam. That teacher had no control while the other one did. It’s not easy to keep kids in line, but kids need discipline at all times.

Rita Present

Some other things I learned this past year:
– In Portugal and many other countries in Europe and elsewhere kids don’t work. They focus on their education instead.

– Most of Europe doesn’t have the gun violence like they do here. The kids in the program here from other countries were shocked by how prevalent guns are here and the amount of violence there is with them. The countries they are from like Germany and Italy and the others don’t allow people to have guns, and/or their citizens don’t want them, and/or there is no reverence for them. It shows in their very low gun deaths as compared to the U.S.

– Kids there can drink at a young age…I mean young. Usually fourteen to sixteen. That being said the drinking and driving laws there are very tough. Most cities have a great affordable transit system. Much better than the U.S. so people take them so that they don’t drive when they imbibe.

– There is more drama here in high school than in their countries. A lot more than when I grew up too in my Trapper Keeper days.

– College is super cheap in Europe for their residents. They may pay around $1,000 for a year of college!


Some of what we wanted to do with her were things she never did before like cutting down a Christmas tree. We wanted her to get a taste of the U.S. and it’s culture.

Rita Dyngus Day

We had a great year together with our exchange student. I showed her all of Cleveland. She even said I was Mr. Cleveland. Cleveland is a great town if you explore it. The people that say it isn’t a great town are the ones that sit home and never see all it has to offer. Sure it has its warts like any urban city, but TV news always shows the bad things going on and not all the gems and energy happening everywhere. I wanted to show off my city to Rita.


We had her pick what she wanted to do in Cleveland using the Scene magazine Top 100 things to do in Cleveland list. She did some very Cleveland things like going to Slyman’s for a humungous corned beef sandwich, The Rock Hall, the West Side market, Amish country, Cedar Point, Dyngus Day (Polish festival), and the Rocky Horror show (yes, toast, squirt guns, newspapers, and all). She saw the Browns, Cavs, Indians, and Captains. Her favorite team was the Indians which was great since baseball is my favorite sport.


We went to the New Year’s Eve party in downtown Cleveland on Public Square and took along a few other exchange students. It was a blizzard that night with plenty of cold and snow, but nobody cared. They were having too much fun to notice it. They danced the night away. They also saw some of Cleveland’s favorites make appearances like Drew Carey and Michelle Knight, one of the ladies that was kidnapped for ten years.

Rita Color Run

They ran the Color Run and volunteered for it. Parts of her were blue for a while. They volunteered a lot.

We took her to Hawaii visiting Honolulu and Maui. Yes, we spoiled her on that one. We had to go there because she’s a surfer. We also went to Niagara Falls too.


We took her on a bike-ride from Willoughby Hills to Chagrin Falls and back about a couple weeks after she got here. That’s when she realized we were active and she loved it because she loved the outdoors and staying fit. Funny, but she never asked to do the long bikerides again.


Rita had a baby while she was with us. But it’s not what you are thinking. One of the classes she took at school, I think it was Early Childhood Development, had her take a fake baby with her for a weekend and they had to take care of it 24 hours a day. The fake baby would even cry and she had to feed it, sometimes multiple times in the middle of the night. If they didn’t take care of it when it did, they would get a lower grade. I think that class did wonders to keep teens from wanting to have a kid.

Rita Prom

She went to Homecoming and Prom. Actually, two proms. She was at her school’s at South and she was also asked to go to the Chardon Prom with an exchange student from Spain.


Now get this. Her mom went to three proms. How can that be if she if they are from Portugal you ask? Well, her mom was an exchange student also. Where was she placed? Solon, Ohio. Yep, Solon just a stone’s throw away. Amazing. Small world.

Rita Foreign Exchange Students

Many of the other kids in the program were great and I know they made lifelong friendships. There were kids from Japan, Austria, Italy, Norway, Morocco, Switzerland, Germany, Pakistan, Spain, and of course, Portugal.

One exchange student, Iqra, from Pakistan, was so appreciative of everything she experienced. She even played on the Kirtland basketball team and in her hijab. She even wrote a letter to the News-Herald talking about what a great experience she had. She, like all the kids, had their preconceptions about the U.S. Some were right and some not. Most were better than what they expected. It was very interesting to hear their backgrounds and all so it was a learning experience for us too.

What amazed me was how well the students did in school. To take hard subjects and not fully know the English language yet do well in school impressed me. Rita got mostly A’s. She was so smart. I thought I was going to have to help with homework a lot more. I barely did anything which was probably good since I probably forgot everything from high school. When I went to school we had typing classes with a typewriter! Now they have web-site design classes!

It turns out some of the kids I taught for Junior Achievement to at Willoughby Middle School years ago became some of Rita’s best friends. I even pulled out a Thank You card from their class in which they pointed themselves out and some of their classmates. I asked them who now was the jock, the cheerleader, the burnout, etc. and they pointed them out.

Rita Intern

She’s a great artist and she drew sketches of some Willoughby Hills city buildings that were framed and hung at the city hall. She wants to be an architect, so it fit her well to draw buildings. She even interned some at a local architecture firm with someone we knew. Best to test-drive a career before getting into one so she spent time getting a taste of it.


She played tennis and ran track for Willoughby South High School. She did well in tennis, winning many games by a shutout. She got her letter for high school.

Her favorite show was Cops even before she got here. Yes, they show some of our stellar shows there. Her dad’s favorite show was Family Guy. And guess what is my favorite show…yep, Family Guy. So our sense of humor fit her.


We went to Buffalo to stop at the restaurant where wings were born. On our way over to Niagara Falls from there with another exchange student that was with us we made the car fly. By that I mean we rolled down the windows and stuck our arms out and made rolling arm movements in unison like a bird would flying. I’m sure the cars behind us thought we were nuts. We would also yell ca-kow! at any wildlife we saw in the neighborhood. So besides humans the animal kingdom also thought we were nuts.

I told her in America that it’s tradition on Tuesdays to have students cut their Dad’s toenails. I think at that point she realized my sense of humor. As much as I tried all year round to get her to she never got around to cutting them. I don’t blame her.

Rita Work

We wanted to keep her active and get the most out of the experience. We also didn’t want to make it all about fun. She had chores and she helped out around the house a lot. She wasn’t used to that because she has a maid at home, so we were concerned. But there were no problems. She was always willing to help. I did try to convince her to replace the roof, but she never got around to it though.

Rita Crazy Parent #1

We may take in another student after a year break. It is a time commitment and as busy as I was even before she got here I didn’t want to lessen her experience. Sometimes you have to sacrifice to see the rewards in life. Many American parents get depressed when their student leaves to go back home. It can be tough and it was. My wife was so great throughout it all. I know Rita and her bonded so well.

Rita Crazy Parent #2 Graduation

She had thoughts of going to college in the U.S. She took the SAT just in case. She ended up going to college in Portugal at one of the best architecture schools in Europe. Although she had thoughts of coming to the U.S. for college it made more sense to go to college there as it was so much more affordable for one thing.


When winter came she saw a snowflake up close and saw how neat it looked up close for the first time. A snowflake looks like just a little white speck from a distance. Up close it has a beautiful design. Something you can only see when you look at it closely. I told her how there are never two snowflakes that are alike. Just like we’re different, we also shared a bond. I gave her a pair of snowflake ornaments for her Christmas tree to remember us by. I wanted her to remember the times we shared together. The laughter, the tears, the anger, the joy, the difficulties, the heartfelt moments, and all the new things she experienced. They, along with all the other experiences in her life, make her who she is and how she approaches life. She was our little snow angel. Up close everything from this experience was beautiful, especially her. She now will move onto the next part of her life. We’re looking forward to seeing her spread her wings.

We miss you Rita!

Rita 2014

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