Coon Rapids Rotary Club welcomes South African exchange student

The Coon Rapids Rotary Club welcomed their latest International Youth Exchange student during the club’s weekly luncheon at the Harvest Grill on March 3. Club members listened as exchange student Busisiwe Mashele, or Busi, as she likes to be called, described her life in South Africa and her experiences since coming to Coon Rapids.

Busi Mashele presents Coon Rapids Rotary Club President Jeff Athmann with a banner from her home district in South Africa. Photo submitted
Busi Mashele presents Coon Rapids Rotary Club President Jeff Athmann with a banner from her home district in South Africa. Photo submitted

Mashele had never traveled outside of her home country before, so arriving here in late January was a shock. She said she likes winter but hasn’t gotten used to the cold yet.

Mashele, 16, is from Springs, a suburb of Johannesburg. Her father, Collin is a police officer and her mother, Ingrid, is an oncology case manager. She has a brother, Thando, 11, and a sister, Sandile, 6. Mashele’s family is Episcopalian and she’s active in their church both as an Altar Server and as vice chair of the youth council.

South Africans speak English but most also speak Afrikaans, a language closely related to Dutch, as many of the early European settlers where from Holland. Busi speaks both but also speaks Zulu as well as three other native languages.

Before coming to the U.S., Mashele attended Ashbury School in the neighboring city of Benoni. Ashbury has an enrollment of about 150 students. Mashele was a member of the school leadership council and the Interact Club. Her favorite sport is Net Ball (like our basketball but without dribbling).

Coon Rapids High School is not much different she said, except for the number of students. Mashele has already joined the speech team and has tried out for an upcoming musical production. She hopes to play softball in the spring.

Switching schools is difficult for her because the South African school year begins March, so she arrived in the middle of our school year. She said she’s learning a lot and enjoys the school experience. She hopes to return to the U.S. for college.

Aside from cold weather and deep snow, Mashele said her biggest surprise was how much individuals here do for themselves. In South Africa, clerks bag your groceries, attendants pump your gas and many families have household help. She didn’t see much difference in the food. When asked about what teenagers do socially, she said it’s much the same.

Mashele’s stay in Coon Rapids will last one year and she will return home in January 2015. During her stay here, she will live with four host families.

One of the primary goals of the Rotary International Youth Exchange program is to give students from around the world a chance to experience the varied culture of their host county. Having students live with multiple families provides that opportunity. Todd and Kellie Mensink, of Coon Rapids, are currently hosting Mashele. As she introduced them to the Rotary Club, Mashele referred to Todd and Kellie as her parents and called herself “Busi Meshele Mensink.”

The Coon Rapids Rotary Club has hosted International Youth Exchange students for more than 25 years and has also enabled a like number of Coon Rapids students to spend a year living abroad.

The exchange program faces an uncertain future in Coon Rapids. Changing lifestyles is making it difficult to find families willing to host a foreign student. If the club can’t accept an in-bound exchange student, they can’t send a student overseas.

For more information about the exchange program or the Coon Rapids Rotary Club, visit

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