American Experience

The American Experience 

 The 21 Spanish teens, and their chaperone, come off the plane looking a bit worse for the wear. The trip has been long: from Bilbao, Spain, over to Portugal, and then finally on to Boston.

Some are out of their country for the first time

. Some have traveled internationally, usually Scotland or Ireland or England, but this is their first trip to the USA. A couple have been to the USA before, but not to this area. Only one is returning to the same family for the second time.

But all are exhausted and excited all at the same time. All that they know about their host families is on three sheets of paper, and perhaps an email or a Skype call or two.

Within hours, they will be getting off the bus and greeting their new “parents” and “siblings”–at least for the next month. And all that their host families know about them is, again, a few sheets of paper and a perhaps an email or a Skype call or two.

It’s really a remarkable request to make of anyone–on either side. Leave everything you know. Trust some folks in your own country–whom you don’t really know. Trust even more in someone you’ve never met, who is halfway around the world. Speak in another language, eat different foods, sleep in these people’s homes.

On the receiving side, you take in someone you’ve never met, to sleep in your home, with your family. You are trusting that these coordinators know what they are doing, and that the student will be as he or she appears on paper.

It’s really very extraordinary that anyone says yes to any of this, when you look at it from a strictly logical way.

But yet, three and a half weeks later, at drop off, there are hugs and tears that are sincere and heartfelt–from the students and the hosts.

During those three and a half weeks, the host families take in their Spanish guest as a normal part of their household. They treat him (or her) like family, asking for help in keeping the rooms clean and making supper. They take their student along with them as they do their normal, daily life things.

Some days are exciting. Some days are just kind of normal. But all of them are a part of their American adventure.

This year, there were families who traveled to Maine, to Niagara Falls, to Cape Cod, to Newport, to New York City. There were baseball games, kayaking, white water rafting. Some days showcase how wonderful of an area we live in, with near daily trips to a lake, a pond or a river. There were family meals, grocery shopping trip and watching TV. Some folks went camping, others traveled to lacrosse tournaments, and some looked out at New England’s beauty from inside a ski gondola before eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

The program puts together a few things, like picnics, bowling, drive-in movies and swimming at a lake. We all go together to Boston, Six Flags and the mall. The students end in New York City, playing tourist for a few days before starting the journey back. It provides a structure for some of the days, but still, the main point is just to be a part of normal family life.

It’s a funny thing, having someone in your home. You start to see your daily routine through their eyes. While we might no longer really notice the beauty in our drive, they point it out with their “Oh, it’s so beautiful here” commentary. Where we might think shopping is a chore to cross off the list, they find it fascinating to visit our American stores.

The American experience each host family gives to each Spanish student has been uniquely their own. Each Spanish student has entered into his American family in a different way. Our new friends from Spain return knowing us just a little more–just like we all know something more about Spain.

The extraordinary leap of faith both sides took has culminated into an special memory.

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three: one at college, one a senior at the high school and one an 8th grader at the middle school. For a month this summer, she had another 22 she felt she had to “parent” a bit, too. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.

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