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Exchange student returns from the Down Under after 20 years

Exchange student returns from the Down Under after 20 years
Cheryl Overend, center, talks to Louis Herbert about is Woverine halloween costume. Joanne Herbert, Louis's mother, from Austrailia was visiting Overend's family this week. She was a former exchange student from Australia attending Francis Scott Key High school. (Ken Koons/Staff photo)

NEW WINDSOR — When Joanne Herbert returned to Carroll County last week, more than 20 years after her first trip, she came with more than just a suitcase and a jar of Vegemite.

This time, the Australian left her Vegemite at home — something her exchange family, the Bulls, never quite found a taste for — but she brought a different last name, a husband, two kids, and a bag of gifts and trinkets from the Land Down Under to share with her exchange nieces and nephews.

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At the age of 18, Joanne, nee Taylor, took her first plane ride in 1991 across the Pacific Ocean to the rolling hills of New Windsor as part of an international student exchange program.

She had just completed her senior year of high school in Australia, and after a short six-month break, headed to New Windsor to, essentially, do her final year of school over, but as an American.

But all Joanne, now 42, knew about America was what she saw on television.

"I knew what I saw on TV — on 'The Cosby Show' or 'Happy Days' and 'Cheers,' " she said. "I thought everyone would have long hair like Bon Jovi. Every Australian knows American sitcoms."

Her attraction to America was based on popular culture — music, movies and what she saw on MTV.

"You look at America from a very different lens," said Joanne, who works as a diabetes clinical nurse consultant.

Joanne was the Bulls' third exchange student. Parents Wes and Linda Bull wanted their children — Dave and Cheryl, now Overend — to have a more worldly view.

When Cheryl was about 14, the family was contacted by a local student exchange program looking for host families to house two French girls for six weeks during the summer, Wes Bull said.

"We asked if the girls spoke English and they said yes, they had been taking English for 10 years," Bull said.

It turns out, the girls could not speak a word of English, which made conversations around the dinner table particularly difficult for the Bulls and their guests.

"It was like one of those jokes you tell; it goes around the dinner table and when it gets back around the table its a completely different thing," Wes said.

The Bulls wanted to make sure the next exchange student they hosted spoke English.

Both Cheryl and Dave were told they could host an exchange student, and Cheryl took her parents up on the offer and chose Joanne based on her biography.

Joanne, however, had never heard of Maryland before she got here.

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Joanne attended Francis Scott Key High School along with Cheryl and Dave for a full school year. It was not very hard for her to fit in. A small school, Key also had four other exchange students visiting that year.

Joanne played tennis and managed Cheryl's field hockey team.

"I might have gotten fired from that position," Joanne joked. "Everything is so much more laid back in Australia. It's not like that in America."

Joanne also dated a special guy while in Carroll. He took her to the senior prom, movies and parties. He promised to visit her in Australia, but, thankfully, Joanne says now, that never happened.

During that year, Joanne became like a sister to Cheryl and while they grew up in a time before social media, the girls kept in touch throughout the years through sporadic letters and lots of Christmas cards.

"Joanne's mom is really into Christmas and Christmas cards," Cheryl said. "She would send these great cards with long messages that updated us on everything that had been going on."

Eventually, Cheryl, now 41, also took a trip across the Pacific Ocean and spent six months in Australia in 1995 with Joanne and her family while in college.

At the time, Joanne lived in a small country town in Australia called Norwell that had about 20,000 people, which she said makes Westminster "look quite large."

"Things are more laid back in Australia," said Cheryl, who is an educator. "There's more going on here, not as much going on there. But that's a good thing."

Wes and Linda also took a trip to Australia a few years ago to visit Joanne and her family.

This trip was not Joanne's first time back to the states. She had visited with the Bulls on two other occasions. But she has not seen Cheryl in about 15 years.

It was also the first time Joanne's children, Ashe Bryan, 14, and Louis Herbert, 5, had been to the states, and her husband Jack Herbert's first time meeting the Bulls.

"When people asked me why we were going to America I said it was to visit my in-laws," Jack said. "When I met Cheryl, I knew she had an extended family in the States."

Joanne and her family flew into Los Angeles from Australia on Sept. 20. She wanted to take her boys to experience Disney Land, similar to the amusement park experience she had visiting Disney World in Florida with the Bulls.

From there, they came to New Windsor to stay with Wes and Linda, took a trip to Washington to see the nation's capital, took a train to Times Square in New York to sightsee and catch a Broadway play, then returned to Maryland.

Last weekend, Cheryl had the entire family to her home in Baltimore County for a cookout, filled with Maryland crabs.

Joanne, who was not a fan of seafood when she visited as an exchange student, tried crabs for the first time during this trip, but only if someone cracked them for her.

Joanne's children were also able to meet Cheryl and Dave's children for the first time. Many of the kids are close in age.

The family also held a big Christmas-in-October dinner for Joanne filled with turkey, succotash — Joanne's favorite — and cranberry sauce.

"Christmas is Joanne's favorite holiday," Linda said. "We wanted her to come during Christmas, but we couldn't work it out, so we had Christmas early."

As for Carroll County, according to Joanne, the area has not changed much.

"The corn, the beautiful rolling hills, the impeccable lawns; there's not a single messy lawn," Joanne said as she sat in the living room of her exchange family Thursday morning. "The county still looks the same. It's still beautiful."

For Linda seeing Joanne again, after many years, immediately brought back all the feelings and love she found for her while she stayed as an exchange student. She said she wants Joanne and her family to definitely come and visit again.

Joanne and her family are scheduled to return to Sydney, Australia, on Friday. She said she hopes to get the entire Bull family out to visit her soon.

Wes said he is willing to return to Australia.

"I'll go if we can take the motor home to Australia," Wes said jokingly, pointing to the back of the garage.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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