By David Fleet
Goodrich — Prior to Aug. 31, the only world Paige Tooth knew was the sandy beaches of the South Pacific, summer in January and an occasional koala bear.
Then on Sept. 1 she arrived in Michigan.
Paige is a 15-year old exchange student from Newcastle, a harbor city in the Australian State of New South Wales about two-hours north of Sydney. She is hosted by the Lauinger family of Atlas Township and will attend Goodrich High School until June 2024.
Paige is here as an ASSE/World Heritage Exchange student. She left school half way through her freshman year and will return a sophomore.
Following a 14 hours airplane trip from Sydney to Vancouver then on to New York, she gathered with about 50 ASSE students for a three day meeting prior to uniting with the host family.
Terri Schall, is the Michigan Area Coordinator for ASSE.
“Each year top notch students, like Paige, from a variety of countries apply to attend an American High School,” said Schall. “Meanwhile, local families volunteer to open their homes and hearts to one of these amazing students.”
Paige lives in a home on the South Pacific Ocean with her brother Cody and sister Claire and mother Jacki. Her father, Martin and his wife Alice live down in the country with Paige’s half siblings Harry and Charlotte.
“I came to the United States because I didn’t want to learn a second language,” she said. “I really had no expectations of what the US was going to be like. I visited Hawaii when I was 7 years old. So, I some idea although it was several years ago.”
“My first impressions here were how quickly the seasons change,” she said. “When I arrived in August it was hot, now it’s getting cold. I’ve never seen snow before, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Paige, who lives on the coast says the outback is inland from her home, so it’s several miles away.
“There’s more animals, like koalas, living out there in the outback,” she said.
She recalled the 2020 the Australian bush fires torched more than 46 million acres.
“During the 2020 bush fires, heaps (many) of the koalas along had to be rescued along with other wildlife. There were a few fires near us back then. There were firefighters and helicopters dropping water. Ash would fall from the sky too. It was not that close to us either.”
Paige plays netball and attends a netball high school. The game is similar to basketball, except you can’t dribble.
“It’s not the biggest thing in the world to me,” she said. “That would be my family.”
“I know it’s cliche but it literally looks like the movies here so far. With homecoming coming up, I did know that was a real thing. In (high school) years 11 and 12 we have a formal (dance) but nothing like this. There’s always something going on here, games going on, things to do. Back home that’s just not common.”
While missing friends and family back home, Paige is eager to be a part of American culture.
“America has big portions of food here, our large portions are your small ones,” she said. “I can’t drive a car back home or here either. Besides, Americans drive on a different side of the road so it’s rather crazy, I got in on the drivers side the other day. We also have a lot more public transportation that takes you anywhere you want to go.”
Social media makes contact with home so much easier, she said.
“I FaceTime with mom,” she said. “But I want to be in the moment, I don’t want to be on the phone with my friends in my room. Because when I get home I’m going to wish I did more here.”
By David Fleet