BAILEY — Luca Parks-Arenare is just 15 years old, but he’s traveled the world extensively looking for new experiences. This time, however, is different.
“I’m living with another family going to a different language school speaking a different language all day,” the Platte Canyon High School sophomore said.
But that’s the kind of adventure the foreign-exchange student from Murcia, Spain, was looking for. The foreign-exchange program FLAG — Foreign Links Around the Globe — opened the door that led Parks-Arenare to his home for the next nine months in Bailey, a mere 5,259 miles away.
He is at the home of Galen DeGroodt and Chris Titchenell, his host family for the coming year. DeGroodt was eager to host an exchange student after receiving an email from the Platte Canyon School District about the possibility.
“I was super excited. I really, really, really wanted to do it. Chris was completely on board as well,” DeGroodt said.
The parents of a 10-year-old son, Keir, Titchenell, a fourth-grade teacher at Deer Creek Elementary School, and DeGroodt thought by having another child in the house, albeit someone else’s child, it would be a good experience for all of them, in particular the different culture that Parks-Arenare brings. It also would be an interesting balancing act, DeGroodt said, about how they would parent their own son if he were 15.
Having a younger child in the house isn’t new for Parks-Arenare, who has an 11-year-old brother back home. And in the month that he’s been in the States, DeGroodt has noticed a bond developing between the boys.
As if coming oversees to study wasn’t enough, Parks-Arenare had one other request — he had to be somewhere so he could play golf. That’s where Conifer High School comes into play. Platte Canyon doesn’t have a golf program, but Conifer does. Parks-Arenare has been a key addition to the squad this year.
“I was playing with him (on Sept. 3), and he’s got a pretty swing. I think he could make a pretty decent player,” Conifer teammate Dakota Dolph said.
He’s been more than pretty decent. Parks-Arenare carded a 9-over-par 79 in his season debut earlier this month at Arvada’s Indian Tree Golf Club. Two weeks later, he qualified for next week’s 4A state tournament with a 10-over-par 81 at the Country Club of Colorado — the host site for state — and he did so in dramatic fashion.
Parks-Arenare eagled the 453-yard Par 4 No. 18, exciting fellow players and spectators alike.
“I’m really proud of Luca for putting it together. I’m super excited for him,” said Dolph, who qualified for state as well.
Getting back on the golf course was a welcomed sight. For months, Parks-Arenare couldn’t get to the golf course in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic and also because course availability was limited while he was in school. So, he took to hitting golf balls at his home in Murcia, sometimes into and across a nearby river. It wasn’t until he got to Conifer that he returned to competitive play.
All of this while adapting to the American culture, learning to speak and study in English as opposed to his native Spanish and keeping up with schoolwork.
“I’m impressed that a 15-year-old decided to do this. … This was his idea,” DeGroodt said. “… He has come halfway across the world to live with strangers and play golf. All of a sudden he has a new family, a new school, a new team. That blows my mind. I wouldn’t have done that (at 15).”
Maybe not, but DeGroodt has had her own adjusting to do, driving Parks-Arenare to and from school daily — not to mention doing the same for her own son — while also getting him to golf practices and meets.
“I knew what I signed up for literally and figuratively, and I’m happy to do it,” DeGroodt said. “I actually enjoy having that time with him.”
Since Aug. 22, when Parks-Arenare met his host family to two days later starting classes at Platte Canyon High School to playing for and qualifying for state as a member of the Conifer High School boys golf team, it’s already been a memorable journey. And it’s only beginning.
“It’s an experience that not everyone is capable of having. I’m fortunate my family can (afford) for me to do this,” Parks-Arenare said.