Former VHS foreign exchange alum returns for 40th reunion
Aug. 3, 2013 at 3:03 a.m.
Updated Aug. 4, 2013 at 3:04 a.m.
The breached cabin door was a liberating sensation after a grueling 20-hour flight from New Zealand and several attempts to keep from falling asleep on his neighbor's shoulder.
And two hours later, Philip Meyer, 58, was back in Victoria - his second home.
Meyer, of Christchurch, was in town to attend his 40th Victoria High School reunion.
Once he got settled in and re-acclimated himself to the 100-degree weather after leaving a land of winter, a string of reunion parties ensued.
Before heading out to a reunion barbecue, Meyer tried to purchase some beer to contribute to the party.
But when he placed the six-pack on the counter, the clerk turned him away because it was too early to legally purchase beer.
"I didn't know you couldn't buy alcohol before midday on a Sunday," Meyer said.
When Meyer returned later that day, the clerk recognized him, smiled and said, "I can sell you beer now."
Still, nothing was as big a culture shock as his year as a foreign exchange student VHS Stingaree from 1972-73.
Before arriving to Texas as a foreign exchange student through the American Field Service, Meyer attended a New Zealand high school of 300 students - a stark contrast to the VHS senior graduating class, which was double the size.
The absence of school uniforms was another adjustment for Meyer, who had to purchase extra clothing for school once he started attending VHS.
"In some ways, it makes it easier for kids in New Zealand because there's none of this competition," Meyer said. "It just eliminates that completely, and it makes it a whole lot cheaper for those parents buying their clothes."
The presence of a high school cafeteria was another startling moment for Meyer.
"Back home, we just took packed lunches," he said.
At the reunion parties, Meyer said several of his friends asked him why he didn't bring his 13-year-old son along for the trip.
"Maybe in five years time," Meyer said. "He'll be 18 then."
The visiting VHS alum said he packed a second suitcase full of clothes to bring back to his son.
"A pair of Levi's jeans is $80 up in New Zealand," Meyer said. "So my 13-year-old son is getting lots of goodies."
Meyer works in Christchurch as a casino slot machine salesman.
And anytime he can make it back to Victoria, Meyer said, he's on another 20-hour plane ride back.
"The people of South Texas are just so friendly and open that they just embraced me," he said. "I had a brilliant senior year."