Easter!

Due to scheduling issues, we could not take any small or large trips for Spring Break. Gabriel did have the opportunity, however, to travel with a group of fellow exchange students to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Imagine traveling with 7 teenaged boys and one other adult chaperone, and you can imagine the level of patience and generosity that fill the heart of Gabriel’s Local Coordinator for his exchange program.

Photo Credit: Ryan Dunfee
Photo Credit: Ryan Dunfee
Photo Credit: Ryan Dunfee
Photo Credit: Ryan Dunfee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Gabriel returned from his week long “educational field trip”, one of the youngest Spoerndle kids had a dance performance as a Sprout with a professional dance company in the area, Saturday night. The next day, we concluded our family “Spring Break” weekend with Easter!

It’s a busy life. It’s a full life. But we are making every moment matter. This international family only has one academic year to live life to its fullest.

Sporting their East best
Sporting their East best

We would say, “Goodbye”, but that’s got to wait

As a member of a host family for an exchange student, each day begins to feel like it’s meant to be lived to its fullest. It doesn’t start out that way. But, one day, you wake up and realize you aren’t “us” and the student “them”. You realize the lines have blurred and you can’t see the difference. You realize you have become family. Your exchange student is no longer someone you host, but simply one of your kids.

As this realization settles in, it usually brings along reminders that the end of the year is approaching. You try not to focus on the end, but it’s darned reality keeps cropping up and nipping at your heart. The answer to this dilemma is to begin living life to its fullest.

And so…..we did. Our life as a family of 8 (now 9) is generally action-packed, but Springtime activities always seem to ramp everything up just a bit. I took lots of photos and made lots of notes, but there just wasn’t enough time left for blog posts. So, in an effort to catch up the rest of the world on our 2nd year as a host family, I present a number of “Throwbacks Posts” to remember the good times when life was lived to its fullest.

Local News

Trading Post: April 5th edition
Trading Post: April 5th edition

 

We made the local newspaper, The Trading Post. Actually, Academic Year in America made the local news. It’s time to recruit new host families for the 2014-2015 school year.

Has it almost been a year? I guess it has. Our whole family is dreading the inevitable “Goodbye” lurking around the corner. The experience of hosting always opens up family life to fresh new experiences. Even a boring weekend day holds something new to discover.

We’ve had some unexpected discoveries while hosting Gabriel, discoveries I never expected. Ironically, Gabriel introduced our family to many treasures held in our home town. It’s about seeing your own community through fresh eyes. Being a part of Gabriel’s experience has helped us get reacquainted with our hometown. Here are a few examples:

  • We joined the local YMCA Gabriel loves to work out, so he asked us about the local Y. His enthusiasm for exercise was contagious. Now the entire family is at the Y, working out, reconnecting with old friends and living a healthier life.
  • We met all kinds of new friends that live in our home town- Gabriel has interests outside of our regular family routine and therefore has met people we would never have met. Gabriel introduced us to new faces we will see long after he returns to Brazil. During our Friday night Chipotle tradition, it’s Gabriel who often greets more people and introduces us to them.
  • We became Grizzly parents– Although we live in a small community with good schools, our family has not taken advantage of them. That’s another story for another day, but since Gabriel attended our local high school, my husband and I have met the teachers, coaches, and fellow parents of Wadsworth High School Grizzlies. Since I graduated from WHS many moons ago, this has been a fun trip down memory lane. I didn’t expect all the reunions.

Hosting an international student definitely brings the world a lot closer. You just might be surprised, however, that it also helps you get to know your home town.

 

Carnival!

It's time for Carnival in Recife
It’s time for Carnival in Recife

It’s Carnival in Brazil! According to Gabriel, our resident Brazilian cultural expert, “Carnival is the best!” Loosely tied to the religious tradition of Lent, Carnival is a party to beat all parties. It’s a chance for everyone in the community to come together, to dress in outrageous costumes, to dance, to sing, to drink.

Gabriel showed us some videos of Carnival past with friends. He found Youtube videos of different cultural dances and music. With the help of Google translate we translated many of the lyrics of the songs, so we could enjoy the lyrics as well as the incredible beat of Samba and Frevo music.

“I don’t think you have anything like Carnival”, Gabriel said.

“I don’t think so either”, I admitted.

“I think, this is why, why we come together and we are so…”

Gabriel was identifying an cultural difference between Brazil and the U.S., but struggling for the words. He has lived with American culture now for six and a half months and the honeymoon is over. Sure we have some fun things of our own; baseball games, American football games, DisneyWorld. But we also stress out a LOT, work too hard, get angry easily. It is impossible to hide the ugliness of culture for too long from someone who is new and full of observation in the effort to learn.

I nodded at Gabriel and said, “I know. I know what you mean”. I didn’t have the words either, but from the images I was watching of Carnival, of people of all ages dancing in the street, laughing at the cameras and simply enjoying life together, I knew I had never experienced that in my own culture; not regularly anyway.

Beautiful Recife and Carnival
Beautiful Recife and Carnival

Americans don’t have week long parties with friends. Short of college-aged Spring Break trips (which I never had the luxury of attending) I can’t think of a time when friends, neighbors, and even people you’ve never met before gather together for a week-long party designed to celebrate all the goodness of life. It’s wild. It’s loud. It’s full of music, dancing, no sleep, and crazy behavior reserved only for Carnival. It must make incredible memories. It must bond together a culture in a way I have yet to experience.

“You guys got to come sometime”, Gabriel said.

That’s the only invitation I need. Thank you Gabriel for teaching us about Carnival- Recife style. Read more about Carnival on NPR.org There’s even a movie for your viewing pleasure.

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Snow Days

I’m sure one of the first things Gabriel noticed about Ohioans this Fall/ Winter was our obsession with discussing the weather. It’s true we frequently discuss weather, but in our defense, the weather is ever changing, and generally proves to be an interesting topic for small talk with friends or strangers.

“Do you talk about the weather in Brazil ?”, I asked him after one particularly dramatic account by my husband regarding dipping temperatures.

“No, never”, he said.

“I guess I understand that”, I added. “Why would you talk about how perfect the weather is, if it’s perfect every day”.

This winter has been exceptionally volatile with deep-freeze wind chills and heavy snow storms. For someone used to 80F/ 25C and sunny, Ohio winter has proven to be quite a shock.

“In Brazil, we never thought this temperature could be anywhere, but like the North Pole”, Gabriel told me one day when the high was -3F.

“I know”, I responded. “It’s horrible, but for some reason we put up with it”.

This past week, Gabriel discovered one benefit of putting up with Ohio winters. Snow Days!

Snow Days rule at our house!
Snow Days rule at our house!

For the first time, Gabriel experienced joy mixed with heavy anticipation as we checked, then re-checked, the school closings list, waiting….For the first time, he understood the ecstasy of receiving a magical 411 phone call from the district Superintendent, even at 5:00am, announcing his regret at having to shut down school for the day. He, like most Ohio teens, embraced the reality of a “forced” pajama day of movies, video games, and sleeping in. Snow? Cold weather? No problem because there is no school!

These past two weeks, our quota of snow days has been met for the year. My teenage daughter found, and re-tweeted,  “5 day school week? That’s so 2013!” We are in amazement at the constant onslaught of cold, snow, and time off. No one is regretting the misfortune of living in  extreme January Ohio this year. We may not have the beach. We may not have 25C and sun, but We. Have. Snow days!

Keeping warm in Ohio—

Throwback Thursday– A First Thanksgiving

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. I’m not sure exactly when I discovered this, but I have a feeling it was sometime near the beginning of my motherhood career. As the Mom of the family, traditionally speaking, the thrill of holidays lessens a bit because of the burden of creating the holiday. Once awarded the title of “Event Manager” for my own family, I quickly warmed up to the  joys of simple holidays that provide maximum fun with minimum exhaustion.

Birthdays and Christmas are awesome, but exhaustive in their expectations and duties. Thanksgiving, often under rated, asks little of me, but offers great rewards. All that is required for a successful celebration is the gathering up of food, family, and friends.

Thanksgiving, is also a truly American experience. Despite our vast diversity as citizens, most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in some form. This holiday is one of my favorite American cultural traditions to introduce to international friends. It’s true other countries have Thanksgiving celebrations, but only in the U.S.A., do we combine turkey, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, football, gratitude, family and friends into one big party, then follow it up with the epitome of consumerism with Black Friday madness. It’s classic American culture at its best.

This year our family had the privilege to introduce Thanksgiving to Gabriel. Like most teenage boys, Gabriel loves to eat. As I encouraged everyone to help themselves to seconds, I told Gabriel to grab a turkey leg. He hesitated at first, I think not wanting to seem greedy. We told him everyone should have a giant turkey leg for their first Thanksgiving. It’s delicious, fun and a bit crazy. He grabbed the leg and I snapped his picture. Nothing says, “American Thanksgiving” better than a giant turkey leg.

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Eat like an American

After dinner our family sat around the table and shared things we were thankful for. We migrated to the living room to watch football and play the Wii. We discussed and plotted our our Black Friday shopping trip. Relaxing and fun. A simple holiday with simple expectations and maximum enjoyment. I’m thankful for Thanksgiving.

Varsity Letters

This past Fall was filled with soccer. Gabriel played mostly JV soccer for his high school team, and my daughter, Micah, played soccer for her private all girls high school team. Having two high school soccer players in the house required strict attention to schedules and a balancing act of managing rides, soccer Mom duties, and tending to the needs of non-soccer playing siblings that would send most corporate CEO cowering into a corner. We were busy.

The best part of the soccer season, however, occurred after the last game. The infamous awards night, or in my daughter’s case, soccer team banquet.

The public high school honored all of their Fall sports during one massive assembly on a Thursday evening. Name after name of scholar athlete was read, while bleachers filled with proud parents looked on. After a short break for cookies in the cafeteria, the various Fall sports teams separated into individual classrooms for sport specific awards; speeches from coaches, and individual recognition. Gabriel’s team returned to the gym.

To our surprise, Gabriel’s coach spoke briefly about each “Senior” recognizing him within this select group. Kind words were exchanged and Gabriel received a Varsity School Letter, pin, and a special Senior gift. He was thrilled and we were too. 

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Gabriel earned his “W” Varsity letter

Micah’s banquet was equally rewarding. After three years of playing on her school’s soccer team, and a bit of high school athletic politics, she received her Varsity letter. For Micah, this meant the ability to purchase a Varsity letter (woman) jacket, valuable cultural capital at her school. It was a sweet victory earned through patience, persistence and fortitude.

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Micah and her letter (woman) jacket.

It was a busy soccer season, but the effort was worth it. Two high school soccer players, two varsity letters, two varsity letter jackets. American high school culture at its best.

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WHS Varsity Letterman jacket—oh yeah!

Gabriel’s First Pumpkin

Did you know Pumpkins did not grow in Brazil? I didn’t until I asked Gabriel. Needless to say, when I explained we would be carving pumpkins to use as decorations to celebrate an American Halloween, Gabriel had no frame of reference for this cultural experience.

Our family hosted an International Pumpkin Fest last weekend. As a fun activity, I suggested all the exchange students bring a pumpkin to carve. I thought it would be a great American cultural experience for the exchange students to experience.

My favorite moment of the evening was standing around our impromptu pumpkin carving station in our living room, helping Gabriel carve his first pumpkin. He ran into his bedroom two different times to change his shirt, after realizing the full scope of our project.

“You just have to reach in, Gabriel, and grab the ‘pumpkin guts'”

“Oh, boy….I think I need to change my shirt”

Gabriel’s expression was priceless. There is no way to explain a US American’s love of pumpkin carving.  It makes no sense, but, like Homecoming, it’s what we do each fall to celebrate. Sometimes, culture defies explanation, and you just have to live it, to believe it.

As the party wrapped up, upon my direction, Gabriel carried his giant pumpkin outside to our front porch.

“It’s not good”, he said.

“No, it will look fabulous lit up. I promise, you’ll see”, I said.

“Oh, I think it’s bad. I think it’s a bad pumpkin”.

“No really, it’s great….trust me”.

My husband took out his cell phone, placed it into the pumpkin, and ….magic!

 “Oh, it’s good!  It’s good! Yeah!, okay….okay”

Gabriel's First North American Pumpkin
Gabriel’s First North American Pumpkin

Pumpkin carving phenomenon explained. Sometimes you just have to live it to know it.

Happy Halloween!

The International Pumpkin Fest!

Chinese PumpkinCostumes, Trick or Treat, Pumpkin Carving, Pumpkin flavored cuisine, China, Brazil and Germany. These were just a few of the ingredients at the International Pumpkin Fest held at our house last night. Most of the exchange students and host families,  I supervise through Academic Year in America (AYA), came together to share culture, food and friendship.

Guided by the inspiration of Pinterest, my daughter, Micah and I, planned a delicious array of Pumpkin Pie Popcorn, Pumpkin Pie Cream Cheese Dip, Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese, and BBQ Beef Sandwiches. A German exchange student brought Kaiserschmarm (delicious caramelized German pancakes), and others brought an assortment of chips, pretzels, nuts, and cookies. It was a feast of Fall treats.

As a host family it is always fun to meet others who “are as crazy as you”. Student exchanges are as meaningful to host families as they are to the exchange student. You really can’t fully understand until you live it. Our International Pumpkin Fest brought together cultures and families, and helped us all build new friendships.

One host “Mom”, who is actually a retired Grandma, is having a wonderful time rediscovering the joy of having a teenager in the house. She sent me a lovely email, after the party, that summarized beautifully why I do what I do, for AYA.

 “Thanks for the nice get together – it seems like those folks are my kind of folks – all good people who like helping and you are our leader   🙂   Thank you, Regenia”

From Left to Right: China, Germany, Brazil, China
From Left to Right: China, Germany, Brazil, China

Homecoming

1186196_467365383361180_1611851314_nIt’s Homecoming weekend in our small town. Since my older children homeschooled, and my current high school aged daughter attends a private, all girls school, Gabriel is introducing our family to the local high school homecoming culture. It’s been an education for all of us.

Gabriel has caused quite a sensation at the high school with the female population. He was asked my numerous young ladies to be their date to Homecoming. He feigned ignorance until one of his favorite girls chose her moment. He accepted and reassured us that, “she is very beautiful”.  How sweet we thought. How cute.

Neither Gabriel, nor my husband and I, realized the extent of pageantry associated with the annual Homecoming dance. Apparently, the first invitation was insufficient. Gabriel was instructed by his date that he must now ask her to the dance. He described the dialogue to us one evening.

“But you asked me?”he said.

“Yes”, but you must now ask me”

“And if I do, you will say, yes?”

“Yes, but you must ask”

“O.K. Will you go with me to Homecoming?”

“No, not that way. You know. Ask cute”

Confused, Gabriel sought out the cultural experts; the Physics class. The teacher explained with a laugh, “You know Gabriel, with flowers or candy…..cute!”

 

“What is this?” he asked my husband and I.

I shook my head. I had no idea. Was he going to the Homecoming dance or getting ready to propose marriage? Was this a little over the top?

“I don’t know, Gabriel”, I admitted. “This is a culture I don’t understand either”.

My husband summed it up for him. “I guess you are learning that American girls are high maintenance”.

“Hey!” I cautioned. “Watch the stereotypes”.

Eventually we figured it out. Gabriel’s date got her “official proposal to the dance”. She provided instruction on numerous other cultural expectations for the evening. Flowers, her dress color and his subsequent tie choice, budget for the evening’s dinner, and time and location of pictures were just a few of the lessons. It was a personalized, independent study on American high school culture and dating for Gabriel; direct and complete.

It’s been an interesting cultural lesson for our entire family. You never realize how important it is to have a cultural ambassador until you try to navigate the murky waters of a high school dance. We salute Gabriel’s date for setting sail, inviting him into the boat, and making sure his voyage was smooth sailing.