Foreign Exchange Students

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
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Foreign Exchange Students

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.

 

Foreign Exchange Students

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!

Foreign Exchange Students

A One Month Anniversary

We were celebrating my daughter’s birthday with a family dinner at Olive Garden. Sitting around the table, eating pasta, salad and those amazing breadsticks, we laughed with each other, chatted about the news in our lives, and relished the unique experience of being gathered together around one table. The meal was excellent, the company even better.

As the conversation and dinner lagged, Gabriel made an announcement.

“You know, today….it is exactly one month that I have been here. It seems so fast!”

I looked at him in amazement and realized I had forgotten I hadn’t known him his whole life. It was only one month ago that I had met this young man for the first time.  One month ago, we had arrived at the airport searching for him through a sea of passengers, and hoping to recognize him from his photos. One month ago, we had drove from the airport trying to speak slowly for understanding. One month ago, we were nervous, polite and unsure of each other. Now we were “family”. Had it really been one month?

“You’re right”, I said. “It was August 15 and now it is September. Happy Anniversary!”

We reminisced about the past month. It had been good, very good, but busy. Lots of soccer practices and games, the frustrations of registering at a new school, the start of classes, crazy teachers who didn’t understand the struggles of taking a class as a non-native English speaker, catching the school bus; most of the time. So many things. So many experiences. So fast.

I usually try to remember important moments like birthdays and anniversaries, but this one caught me off guard. I’m glad we remembered, but I love that I forgot. Without our formal realization, Gabriel had become a permanent fixture in our family culture. He was not a stranger or a temporary resident in our home.  At that moment, I realized, Gabriel was family.

Foreign Exchange Students, Uncategorized

Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

Hello and welcome to my blog, “An International Family”. I chose to create this blog to chronicle our family’s experience with international student exchange.

Our family fell into hosting exchange students completely by accident. In 2006, we were a homeschool family and often received mailings directed to traditional brick and mortar schools at our home. One day a postcard sent in the mail beckoned to me saying, “Take Your Foreign Language Students to Europe!” It was such a refreshing idea, that I went to the company’s website to peruse my options and pondered how to market the idea to other homeschool families.

Then I saw it. A little button titled, “Host in the US”. I clicked and within moments I had entered my contact information and sent off an email inquiry regarding hosting an exchange student for a short three week visit.

The next day, I was called by a French teacher from a local high school who had received my contact information from the website. They were desperate for host families and “was I still interested?” Gulp. I realized I was launching into new territory, but what the heck. It was only three weeks in the summer. “Sure”, I said.

He asked me what type of student I would like to host. Trying  to appear diplomatic I said, “Ideally, a girl, but we can take a boy”. I had two teenage daughters at the time and absolutely did not want to host a boy. He promised to find a good match and would forward the student’s contact information to us as soon as possible.

Within the week, we received the notice of our match, a French boy named Guillaume. I looked at this kid’s profile and photo and wondered what I had gotten our family into.  I didn’t realize at the time we had just entered into one of the most exciting experiences of our family’s lifetime.

We picked up Guillaume at the school’s parking lot a few months later. It was mid-July and he would stay with our family for three weeks. His goal was to spend time with a typical American family to learn about typical American culture and to improve his English fluency. We were not to “entertain” him, but treat him as a member of the family.

After some formal introductions, he hopped into the front seat of our mini-van. I started the car, nervous and unsure what to say to this “new family member”. He placed his hand on the dashboard in front of him and said almost in disbelief to me, “We have this same car”. “You do?” I asked. “Yes, only green”, he answered.

There is a comfort and security in the familiar and we both smiled at each other relieved to have found common ground so quickly. Guillaume’s stay with our family was a series of “Us too!” moments. The world shrunk daily as we began to realize  we had more in common with northern France, than even some of our American neighbors. It was an exciting educational time of bonding and learning for Guillaume and our family.

Circa 2006

Three weeks passed very quickly, and before we knew it we were saying goodbyes and sharing hugs at the airport. There were many tears from everyone and we both promised to stay in touch. We held to our promises, exchanging emails, letters, photos, and Christmas gifts for years. My oldest two daughters visited his family in France the next summer. His younger brother, Pierre, and younger sister, Charlotte visited us in subsequent summers.

My daughter,  Sammi, so inspired from meeting Guillaume and his family fell in love with France and French culture. Because of our relationship with this student through a three week foreign exchange, she was able to travel independently to Europe multiple times while still in high school and experience French culture in an authentic and personal way. She later chose to major in French education in college and spent last summer studying in a college in Provence to conclude her undergraduate education. She will begin her career as a French teacher this Fall at a local high school. All of this, because we chose to say, “yes” to “can you host a student?”

Last May, I became a Local Coordinator for Academic Year in America (AYA). I am responsible for connecting host families with international students and helping them through the often murky waters of student exchange paperwork and cultural challenges. I love my work, and believe so much in the power of student exchange to change cultural expectations and stereotypes. I truly believe student exchange helps future generations along the path to world peace and unity.

Won’t you join our family and others in the adventure of a lifetime? I promise it will change you in every good way and you won’t be disappointed.