• 63°

Camellia House welcomes Belgian guests

The Belgian students from Youth Sports Exchange are happy to call the Camellia House Bed and Breakfast their temporary home for the next few days as they come to Alabama to experience culture and shoot some hoops. (Photo by Beth Hyatt)

The Belgian students from Youth Sports Exchange are happy to call the Camellia House Bed and Breakfast their temporary home for the next few days as they come to Alabama to experience culture and shoot some hoops. (Photo by Beth Hyatt)

With the summer slowly winding down, many vacationers may be planning their trips back home, but for one group at the Camellia House Bed and Breakfast, their Alabama summer experience is just beginning.

Mark Peeters, a director for Youth Sports Exchange, and 25 student basketball players from Belgium have made Luverne their home for the next few days in hopes of playing basketball as well as immersing themselves in Southern culture.

The Youth Sports Exchange organization is more than 30 years old, and this trip marks the fourth year that Peeters and his group have visited The Friendliest City in the South.

“We will do some sight-seeing, give the guys some culture and have some fun because it is their holiday,” Peeters said.

“If you’re here in the states, you have to learn a little bit from the culture. They have to pay for it, so I want to give them something in return.”

Peeters decided the teams should visit Luverne after his oldest son, Nick Peeters, attended Crenshaw Christian Academy for his senior year in 2011.

The group will not only play basketball while here, but will also have the chance to tour multiple historic sites in Alabama.

Kathy Dowdy has owned and operated the Camellia House for the past 13 years. (Photos by Beth Hyatt)

Kathy Dowdy has owned and operated the Camellia House for the past 13 years. (Photos by Beth Hyatt)

On Monday the group went to Montgomery to follow the Civil Rights trail, on Tuesday they set off on a trip to Tuskegee to see the airman site and later on they will also go to the University of South Alabama and Auburn University to tour the facilities.

Kathy Dowdy, owner of the Camellia House, has been in business for 13 years, and enjoys seeing the plethora of cultures that make their way through town.

Dowdy says that her favorite part of hosting the team has been meeting people of a different culture and seeing the similarities and differences between our culture and theirs.

“They are charming, fun and very passionate about playing ball and seeing America. So that’s been fun for me just to watch them in action” Dowdy said.

Dowdy also serves as an instructor at the LBW Community College Luverne Center and encourages her students to learn more about other cultures.

She believes it is important to invite and incorporate new cultures into the town to help citizens learn and experience more.

“There’s a whole other world out there. There are other foods, not everyone dresses the same, not everyone looks the same and there are so many opportunities out there,” Dowdy said.

Peeters sees one of the biggest cultural differences in the size of the community. In his hometown, he is used to the hustle and bustle of a big city, as we might see in New York, but here Peeters says the atmosphere is calm and quiet.

“We enjoy staying here at the Camellia House. It’s something special and there are good, friendly people, that’s for sure,” Peeters said.

Nick Peeters now serves as a coach in the Youth Sports Exchange program, and is glad to have the chance to come back to Luverne, even if it is for a short time.

“I enjoyed it a lot and in small towns you know everybody,” Nick Peeters said.

“You learn a lot of new things and it makes you grow as a person, so that’s the most important part. Don’t just stick with your own culture, but make yourself brighter with a lot of new experiences.”

Overall, Mark Peeters believes that the students enjoy their experiences in America, and are able to learn much about the culture.

It is Dowdy’s hope that the teams will continue to visit Luverne as long as they are able to, and maybe even continue to bring more students as each year passes.

“I think our town has a lot to offer, and we need to get more and more people to stop and have a meal, drop in a shop or spend the night. I think we have something special,” Dowdy said.