Mirko is coming soon to stay with our family for 10 months thanks to Academic Year in America. We are making great plans for learning about Italian culture (especially the food) and introducing American culture to him. For now, we text through WhatsApp and like each other’s Instagram and Facebook posts. We even managed to Skype once too. We are all getting excited and counting the days until Mirko arrives in the USA.
During the next two months we will finish the school year, celebrate a high school and a college graduation within our American family of kids, prepare to send a daughter to college in North Carolina, and continue to make big plans. It won’t be long until we start the next chapter in our International Family adventure: Italia
Gabriel was given the opportunity to participate in the Baccalaureate and Graduation ceremonies of our local high school to complete his Academic Year in America. It was a special time for our family to witness Gabriel’s accomplishments, and to recognize all the work we accomplished learning and growing as a host family.
Since the last time I attended WHS graduation was in 1982 when I graduated, I didn’t know about a new special tradition that was part of Baccalaureate. Near the end of the service, the Seniors stood up from their seats, walked to a bucket of red carnations, and then carried as many carnations as they wanted, to present to the people in attendance who helped them the most in completing their education. Teachers, parents, grandparents, and friends all received special recognition with these flowers. Gabriel gave his flower to me.
Graduation day was picture perfect. The sky was blue, the air warm, and inside the WHS gym there was a sea of red caps and gowns. After the ceremony, it felt like the entire city was present in the hallways and cafeteria/ commons areas as we all searched to reunite with our honored graduates.
Gabriel met up with our neighbor, one of his new best friends, to take one last photo as a high school student. We even made him pose with the school mascot, the Wadsworth Grizzly!
It’s been two months since that wonderful weekend of honoring accomplishment.
Gabriel was able to stay with our family for one week after graduation. His grandparents came from Brazil to meet our family, and to see where their Grandson had spent his school year.
It was an incredibly meaningful, and deeply moving experience to meet them. His grandfather told us we would always have a place to stay if we visited Brazil. He thanked us for all we did to help his grandson meet his dreams. He said he saw that Gabriel now had a true American family.
There have been many tears shed since we said our goodbyes. Gabriel is back home in Brazil, and we are texting nearly every day through the help of WhatsApp and our I-phones. We don’t know when we will reunite in person just yet, but whether its through Skype or travel, we know distance is not enough to separate our International Family.
Gabriel’s American high school experience would be incomplete without Prom. Ask any high school alum about their Senior Prom, and generally speaking, they begin to wax poetic. The tuxedos, the gowns, the dinner, the photographs, the dancing; everything surrounding this culminating high school experience is designed to create a Cinderella meets Prince Charming type of night.
Since my older children homeschooled, this was my first experience with high school prom from a parental perspective. I was very impressed by the sense of unity the local high school and community shared to create a magical evening for the high school Seniors and their dates. It was heart warming and nostalgic, a classic example of small-town America.
Someone organized a pre-Prom photo shoot at a local church. It was here that Gabriel nervously waited for his Prom date to arrive, so they could begin their evening. The turn out for photos was surprising, considering the questionable weather that kept a dainty mistiness in the air promising to flatten fancy updos.
Cinderella arrived, beautiful and ready for the ball. Gabriel exchanged flowers with his princess, and I was allowed to snap a few photos to capture the magic.The church’s garden courtyard offers an ideal locale for beautiful photos. With the help of another couple, also parents of a Senior, Gabriel and his prom group dashed between a few rain drops in the courtyard for an outdoor photo op. As parents we directed groupings and poses, and snapped photos with a frenzy.
After the church photo shoot, the before Prom festivities continued at the local high school with “Promenade”. Promenade, I discovered, is an annual tradition where the community, accompanied by WCTV the local cable station, gathers together to act as paparazzi for the prom attendees. Students are announced individually in the high school gym while walking through separate gym doors to opposite sides of a stage set in the middle. The prom dates climb the stairs of the stage, meet in the center, then pose to be photographed by a professional photographer. Promenade is an impressive display for parents, and a great way for the community to honor the students. With about 400 in the graduating class, it lasts several hours, but one by one, every student is announced while parents, friends, siblings, and grandparents patiently wait for their moment to honor their favorite high school senior.
The Prom was held at a local, relatively elegant, restaurant, the post prom party at the local Middle school, staffed by parent volunteers. As I reflect back on Gabriel’s Prom night, I realize the students, most likely, do not realize, the amount of effort and time their wonderful parents and community put forth in creating their magical Prom experience. Someday they will realize it, however.
Some day, they will look back on their Senior Prom, view a few old photographs, and find their own motivation to wax poetic. Senior prom is classic Americana. WHS Senior Prom proved to be another classic, American high school experience for Gabriel.
May proved to be so busy for our family that we found ourselves running head long into one celebration after another. The month kicked off with our oldest daughter, Courtney, graduating from The University of Akron with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Receiving her degree was the end of a very long journey for Courtney, so despite the limit of tickets available for friends and family, we begged and borrowed enough seats in order to make sure all of her siblings could attend. If you are counting heads that’s nine tickets needed; a tough acquisition since the total ticket count available was only five per graduate.
After graduation, our family had a celebratory Italian dinner at a local restaurant. We ordered giant wood-fired pizzas to share with some ketchup on the side. Gabriel ate quickly before we whisked him off to meet his Local Coordinator, and a few other exchange students, for a whirlwind trip to NYC, the next appointment on the calendar of events for this host family.
Northeast Ohio is about an 8-9 hour drive from NYC, so Gabriel’s group rode the bus all night Friday in order to arrive at Macy’s on Saturday morning. Everyone hopped off the bus for a day long tour of NYC, then hopped back about 8pm for their return bus trip to Ohio. Twelve hours in the Big Apple isn’t quite enough time to see and do it all, but Gabriel had a great time, and was able to make it home in time to celebrate, Mother’s Day.
We kept our Mother’s Day celebrations low-key this year, by grilling steak and eating at home. In truth, what more could a mother want than to see her oldest daughter graduate college and have everyone gathered together to share memories and a meal? Gabriel’s new, American girlfriend came over Mother’s Day evening to visit with him, and to discuss their plans for the next weekend…….Prom!
Are you feeling out of breath yet? If not, I’m sure you can imagine the craziness and wonder we experienced as the final weeks of Gabriel’s exchange ticked by, and this Academic year in America began to draw to a close. There was no time for sadness, but lots to celebrate!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.