Belgian exchange student wants to stay to earn scholarship

Selim Gilon has earned a special medal in the Section 3A Cross Country meet last week and a spot at the state competition Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

COTTONWOOD — Belgian foreign exchange student Selim Gilon said it is his dream to go to a good U.S. university to study engineering, mathematics and piloting airplanes. One of his favorite pastimes back home was flying gliders as a Belgian Air Cadet.

“We performed maneuvers for King Philippe, like a parade,” he said. “In the Belgian Army we always talk about movies like ‘Top Gun.’ I want to become a flight instructor and to stay in America.”

Another exciting opportunity he had was to do training on Saturdays for two years with his local fire department. He needs another year of training in order to earn a degree in firefighting. He is looking forward to pursuing this line of volunteerism again in the future, perhaps in the United States.

Gilon has a plan to earn a scholarship and it includes literally running home to do pig chores after school at his host family farm near Cottonwood. It helps him work out for the Lakeview cross country team.

“I help when they get new pigs in or load up older pigs to ship out,” Gilon said. “And, I help feed the pigs when they need help, but I love to run.”

His host parents are Tony and Ashley Rialson of rural Cottonwood.

Gilon has earned a trip to the state level cross country meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield Saturday. He did so by winning the Section 3A meet at the Madison Golf Course last week.

“It is my favorite medal because it qualified me for state,” Gilon said. “It was my best time of 17:45 for the 3.1 mile event.”

In order to get enough practice time in as he would like, Gilon stated that he often runs to school in the morning and also runs on his own over the weekends.

“It will be my biggest race ever — at state,” Gilon said. “I want to run in the 17:30s Saturday. So I run on the gravel roads.”

“Selim’s goal early in the season was to earn a trip to state,” his coach Becky Remiger said. “He knew it wasn’t going to be easy. He dropped over 2 minutes from his first race of the season to sections. He’s been working the last couple of meets to run with some of the guys in our section that would qualify and at sections, he went out with the front pack. 

“He managed to stay within that pack to qualify. He had a PR (Personal Record) at sections which was no small feat. The conditions were the worst I an remember with strong winds and cold.  He knew what had to be done to get there and he did it.”  

It is the first time a Lakeview runner will go to the state competition in cross country, he said and Lakeview personnel confirmed.

It could be his ticket for staying in the United States after his year as a foreign exchange student is up.

“I think I have to be here two years before I can apply for citizenship,” he said, “but I would like to earn a cross country scholarship to go to college here.”

The Rialsons said Gilon came over through a program called Nacel Open Door.

“We got a phone call one day asking us if we would be interested in hosting a foreign exchange student for the year since we had some background similarities as he did,” Ashley said. “I talked it over with Tony and the boys, and we decided to give it a try and it has been a success from the start.”

Gilon was matched to the Rialsons by Nacel personnel looking at their background application that they had to fill out based on what their interests are and what they like to do in their free time, such as car racing.

“The experience has been awesome,” the couple said.

“The boys (Cayson, 4, and Conner, 6) really enjoy him a lot and call him their big brother. They enjoy watching him run and spending time with him.”

Gilon said he applied for the foreign exchange program for a number of reasons.

“I wanted to learn English, to discover the American future and to live one year as an American,” he said. “It’s probably the best decision I ever made.”

He said his host family is perfect, he loves Lakeview School and that all the people here are really nice.

Gilon’s parents are Patrick Gilon and Gene Piret. His father owns a small industrial broom factory where Selim worked part-time when he was at home.

His mother works for Business Network International. They make their home amidst small farms in rural Heusy, Belgium, near the German border. The Gilons have no livestock, just a pet labrador.