Disaster trifecta makes for interesting exchange visit
AMERICAN exchange student Drew Tuttle has lived through a trifecta of disasters since he arrived in the Clarence Valley last July, but they have not darkened his view of the country.
“Droughts, bushfires and finally COVID-19," he said. “I certainly picked an interesting time to stay in Australia.”
On Saturday the 17-year-old student from the tiny Wisconsin town of Drummond flies home, his stay as a Rotary Exchange Student cut short by about a month due to the pandemic.
“Rotary International and the US Government want me home and I’ve got to say I agree with them,” he said.
Drew said despite the disastrous COVID-19 numbers coming out of the USA, he was confident his home town would provide a similar level of safety to the Clarence Valley.
“In Wisconsin there have been 11,000 cases and Drummond, which has a population of about 400 is pretty isolated,” he said.
“In our county there has only been one or two cases, so it’s sort of the same as here.
“I’m more worried about the airports we’ll be in than going home.”
Drew said he would be in quarantine for two weeks once he touched down in the States.
He said his stay in the Clarence Valley could not have been better for a native of a landlocked state like Wisconsin.
“Yamba, Minnie Water, Wooli have been so much fun,” he said.
“I’ve loved the sea. A neighbour has taken me out deep sea fishing and I’ve tried surfing.
“I’m not much good at it, but it’s been a lot of fun.
“I’ve also enjoyed eating as much seafood as I can.”
Drew has also enjoyed the Australian way of life.
“Australians have such open, fun-loving personalities,” he said. “I love that easy going sort of personality I’ve found in most people here.”
Drew got a crash course in one of the Valley’s favourite sports when staying with Heather and Dick Pryor.
“They are fanatical Roosters supporters and took me to see the NRL grand final,” he said.
“I loved it and it got me interested enough in rugby league I actually went to a few training sessions with the Grafton Ghosts before the COVID thing took off.”
He also experienced a milestone many natives of Grafton count as a rite of passage, celebrating his 17th birthday at Roches Hotel.
Before the COVID-19 lockdown curtailed his travels, Drew saw a fair section of the east coast of Australia.
“I got up to Brisbane to stay for a while and travelled down to Sydney and Wollongong,” he said.
“At Christmas time we got to go out west a little bit to Moree with my third host family.”
He said he had made many lifelong friends during his stay in Grafton.
“If I come back to Australia I know so many people I will have to visit from my friends from school and host families,” he said.
Drew thanked both Grafton and Grafton Midday Rotary for organising his visit their hospitality during his stay.
“I stayed with four host families during my stay: Annie Lydon at Waterview Heights, Heather and Richard Pryor at Westlawn, Leigh Taylor and her family in Grafton and Robert and Gerelle Blanchard at Junction Hill,” he said.
Grafton Midday Rotary secretary Brian Lane said Grafton Rotary Club had done a great job organising the exchange.
“They’re a small club that does great things,” he said.
He said Drew had been an exceptional student at Grafton High School completing year 11 and starting year 12.
Drew said he was glad he did not have to sit the HSC exams but was confident the lessons he had learned would help him complete his studies at home.