Foreign exchange student Eliska Suchardova, second from left, enjoys some down time with her host family from Bridge City, Kim Cooper, Michaela Cooper, Waverlee Cooper and James Cooper.

By Dave Rogers

For The Record

Eliska Suchardova says she’ll miss crawfish and barbecued crabs when she returns home later this month to the Czech Republic.

But not as much as she’ll miss the many folks she met while spending her junior year as an international exchange student at Bridge City High School.

“I’ll most remember my family,” the 18-year-old said of her “host family,” Bridge City Intermediate School teacher Kim Cooper, her husband, James Cooper and their children Michaela, 17, and Waverlee, 14.

“I’ll be excited to see my friends and family at home, but I’m going to miss my host family,” she said.

After finishing the school year in late May, Suchardova has been busy.

She went to Florida and Disney World as part of the Bridge City band trip and then she departed Southeast Texas on a flight to Utah. There, she met her parents, Roman and Ivana, to tour the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Las Vegas before the family of three ends its first trip to the United States and returns home.

They live in Stribro, a mining town dating back to the 12th century.

Suchardova was one of five international exchange students at Bridge City High School during the 2016-17 school year.

She said she became interested in taking part in an international exchange after schoolmates she knew back home had done it.

“I just thought it’d be cool,” she said.

A friend accompanied her to the United States, but he spent his year in Wisconsin.

The program run by Canada’s International Student Exchange matches host families with applicants.

“You never know where you’re going to go,” Suchardova said.

She said she had to fill out a 20-page application full of information about her grades and medical history, likes and dislikes.

“You have to join some organization that belongs to the program and apply,” she said. “They invite you for an interview; they have to know if you can speak the language.”

English is no problem for Suchardova. And neither was fitting in with her host family.

“She fell in so seamlessly. She just really fit in,” Kim Cooper said. “The first week she was with us, I just felt like she’d always been with us.”

The same can be said for fitting in at school.

“Bridge City schools say ‘Be a part of all that’s offered,’ and she was in everything they offered,” Cooper said.

“And she excelled in everything.”

Suchardova, a guitar player at home, joined the Cardinal band, where she played percussion. She was one of four Bridge City students whose acrylic paintings were honored at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo art show.

She was on the school’s UIL science and math team, a member of the Spanish club and played on the golf team, posting the best score for Bridge City girls at the District 22-4A tournament.

“I really enjoyed golf,” she said. “I had played a little with my dad, just an occasional thing like two times a year.”

Cooper said she pushed Eliska (pronounced e-LEE-sh-ka) to join the high school band; daughter Michaela was already a member.

“I knew it would be a good way to meet people,” Cooper said. “It’s a good group of kids.”

“We practiced after school with the band into November,” Suchardova said. “Then I had golf practice every day after that.”

“She stayed busy,” Cooper said “She had something every day.”

“I was just open to everything, I guess,” Suchardova said.

Asked to name her favorite class at BCHS, the list was lengthy.

“I’d say physics and art. English was fun, too,” she said.

Suchardova said she had never spent more than two weeks at a time away from her parents before flying to New York City last August to start her study abroad trip.

“I was sad to leave my friends and parents, but I was never homesick. I knew I’d be back in a year,” she said.

And less than 10 months after arriving in Bridge City, she was saying goodbye to another family.

But everyone’s sure they’ll stay in touch.

Suchardova says she plans to leave the Czech Republic again, in a year or two, for college abroad.

“I’ll probably try to go somewhere else to school, the U.S. or Britain, somewhere they speak English,” she said.

But she and her parents figure to be entertaining the Coopers in Europe before too long.

“We’ve gotten very close,” Kim Cooper said.

“She was just an amazing young lady, and it was an amazing experience. I hate to see her leave.

“But hopefully, she’ll get to come back and visit here and we’ll get to visit her sometime.”