BLOG WITH SIMON: Be my guest

In an effort to foster global understanding, or perhaps cause an international incident (time will tell), we’re billeting an exchange student.

And in the words of Big Kev, I’m excited.

We used to billet all the time when I went to school, and it was great.

Granted I went to school last century.

Last mid-century as a matter of fact, and things might have changed. But surely not that much.

A note would go round school announcing aliens approaching. Sometimes several days before the aliens arrived. Sometimes on the day. Sometimes several days after they arrived if the Gestetner was out of ink.

Families would put their hands up and away you went.

Kids came, kids saw, kids conquered and went home.

All in all, an enriching experience for everyone, and the incidence of human sacrifice proved relatively rare.

Billeting doesn’t seem to happen that much these days.

When my kids go away with school they tend to be accommodated en masse at custom-built complexes like army camps, detention centres, cattle yards.

They rarely stay with families in their homes.

And when I say rarely, I mean never.

I’m not exactly sure why.

Possibly the incidence of human sacrifice has increased over the years, or red tape.

The bigger shame is that kids are missing out on a unique learning experience – living with weird folk, in their weird houses in their weird towns for short, sometimes bewildering, periods of time.

Often called ‘‘broadening your horizon’’.

We used to do it a lot and there never seemed to be an issue. You got who you got. You hoped they had mod cons like food, electricity and running water.

And you hoped you did something interesting after school. Like head down to the local grease shop for a game of space invaders, if you had the coin. Or head to the pool to get sunburnt. Sunburn came free.

Or throw a rock at something – a limitless source of stimulation pre-Play Station. Pre-Atari actually.

The timeless nature of rock throwing means you can get the same thrills today.

In fact, I’m keeping it up my sleeve as a ‘‘get-out’’ activity if we prove too boring for our exchange student. Being from the stone ages, rock throwing is in my blood. Modern kids probably have an app for it.

Hopefully not ones from Paris.

My primary school used to have an annual exchange visit with, of all places, Moree.

I think it was designed to show the contrast between where we lived – a coastal place with abundant rainfall, lush vegetation and the expectation that crops grow – and non-coastal places that don’t have such things. Like the Sahara, the Gobi and Moree.

I was up for it. I figured we’re all different but we’re all the same. And nothing underlined that fact more than the first place we visited on our cultural exchange, the local abattoir.

A natural enough destination really. A major local employer. A focal point of the community. And a place of interest, surely, to all carnivores.

Slightly confronting though, at age 12, witnessing the journey from beast to burger at close quarters, hind and fore. Like dealing with the opening 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, only gorier.

Memorable though.

As was the two-hour commute into town each morning on the school bus from the wheat farm and the sense that scholars had got it wrong – the earth is in fact flat. Out there at least.

Hopefully we fit the billet with our exchange student and generate as many memorable experiences too.

Have you been a billet or hosted one?

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