Doug and Sirina Cassidy hosted former French exchange student Wandrille “Vindy” Peltier 20 years ago, but for 10 days last month, Peltier hosted them.
Peltier worked with the Cassidys’ two sons to surprise Doug and Sirina with plane tickets to visit him in France as a Christmas gift/birthday present for Sirina. They left on June 13 and returned on June 25.
“My oldest son, Jeffery, had to go behind [Sirina’s] back to find out how many vacation days she had, and how many sick days, so it was a total surprise when we got those tickets,” Doug said.
Doug said he almost didn’t go because he had just taken over Bishopp’s Appliances in January following the death of his uncle, Dick Bishopp.
“In January, my uncle passed away, who owned our store, so I took over and had to do more and more, so I said ‘I can’t go, I got all this to do,’ and finally my aunt, who still does all this bookwork, is actually the one who told me I was going,” he said. “It was only ten days, and they did a good job. Kept the store running.”
Doug’s aunt worked for Youth for Understanding (YFU), which offered a student exchange program. He said she was the one who convinced him and his wife to host Peltier.
Sirina said they agreed to board him because initially Peltier didn’t have a home to stay at as he was coming over.
“If people have the opportunity to host an exchange student, do it,” Sirina said. “Because he came, and we really weren’t expecting him. He was coming and he had no home to go to. So we decided to help Aunt Becky out. She asked if we would help out and put him up for a bit, and we ended up keeping him. And now look where we’re at.”
It was the second time the Cassidys saw Peltier in-person since they hosted him, but the first time they’d gone to France to visit. In fact, it was the first time they’d been overseas.
Sirina said she cried when she found out about the tickets.
“That’s was a bucket list of mine to be able to go to their home and visit, so when I got the surprise of the plane tickets it was very overwhelming and unbelievable that his family would do that for us,” she said.
The Cassidys hadn’t seen Peltier in nearly ten years.
“When we got through the airport and we got to where we were able to see him, I was scanning everywhere, and he’d seen us, and he was jumping up and down and waving, and I was like ‘There he is, there he is, there he is!’” Sirina said. “So me and him, we kind of took off running and jumped into each other’s arms.”
Sirina said Peltier embraced her before Doug, because she was closer to Peltier when he lived with them.
“Me and him had a very close relationship when he was here,” Sirina said. “We stayed up many nights, ‘til 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning talking about things. We would talk about religion, we would talk about politics, we would just talk about everyday living. We were able to communicate more and talk more on a conversational level.”
Sirina said on this trip they talked about how the roles were reversed – but they didn’t stay up all night talking like they did 20 years ago.
“When he was here, he wasn’t used to what Americans did – when we’re in France, we’re not used to what they do,” Sirina said. “So we would ask a question and the conversation would just go.”
The Cassidys stayed with Peltier, in his three bedroom townhouse in Louviere, a town west of Paris, with his wife and two kids. The town is similar in population to Shelbyville.
The Cassidys always considered Peltier and his family as their own family, which makes Peltier’s kids, William (4 years old) and Sam (19 months), the Cassidys’ grandchildren.
“We’re all one big family, it just happens to be that we live in two different countries,” Sirina said.
The Cassidys hadn’t met Peltier’s children or his mom before. They met his sister the last time Peltier came to the U.S. to visit.
“His sister came to visit with her husband and daughter, and his mom – we’d never met his mom before – she came down and spent three days there,” Doug said.
“We both were excited, and we both were very nervous and didn’t know what to expect, because the kids don’t speak English,” Sirina said. “So I used my phone with translations a lot to talk to William.”
Doug said he didn’t learn any French while he was there. Instead, he pointed to communicate.
“We would go out on trips with the kids and then Doug would say, ‘Hey William,’ and point to his shoulders, so William would get up on Doug’s shoulders,” Sirina said. “At one point he was pulling Doug’s ears, he was poking him in the eyes, he was doing everything to Doug and we were laughing about it.”
Sirina said it was nice being around the kids because every morning she would see them before they went to school, and at night they would give them hugs and kisses before they went to bed.
“It was always sweet, every once in a while there was a few days when he would come in, he would open the bedroom door and he’s like ‘Sirina!’ and I was like ‘Oh, it’s William’ and he’d come up and give me a kiss on the cheek,” she said. “That was sweet. It was hard to leave them.”
Sirina said they played “balloon” every night, which consisted of hitting a balloon around a room.
“I got a little taste of what being a grandparent will be like, and I think it will be fun,” Sirina said. “But we aren’t hurrying our boys at all.”
The Cassidys visited Paris and some of its sights, including the Eiffel Tower and some castles, but Doug said his favorite was visiting Omaha Beach, Normandy.
“The D-Day museum was kind of neat,” Doug said. “It was pretty sombering when we went to the cemetery.”
“I don’t remember, it’s been 30 years since I was in school, but in history class they don’t tell you what the actual name for D-Day was,” Doug said. “It was Operation Overlord, but they don’t tell you that.”
“You learn some of the things like the maps that the parachute guys used were made of silk, so if they hit the water the map was still useable,” Doug said.
Sirina said seeing Omaha Beach made her sad that the war happened and that it still happens.
“We kind of see ourselves as ‘these two families can set aside any differences because we are a family.’ Sometimes we may not agree on everything through our discussions, but we’re a family … If people would open their heart to try to understand other people and other cultures, then maybe this world could be a better place. And I think that’s one of the things through the exchange program that has taught me and my family, even my boys.”
Sirina said when they left, lots of tears were shed, similar to when Peltier returned home after his time as an exchange student ended.
“At the time, I don’t think me and Doug thought how attached can you get to a person in nine months, but you do,” she said. “And every time that we have to say goodbye to them, to any of our kids, is hard. But this time it brought a lot of memories from the first time he left, walking away, seeing him standing there crying, only this time we’re the ones loading on and crying. So the roles got reversed a little bit, but the feelings were still the same.”
The Cassidys have hosted two exchange students since, one from Finland and one from Denmark. Sirina said she hopes to go back to visit Peltier again, but has to visit her other two exchange kids first.
“Twenty years later, look where we’re at, out of something we weren’t even expecting,” Sirina said. “And our family has grown even more since him, because we have a family in Denmark and a family in Finland.”