I guess it all boils down to expectations. We really didn’t know what to expect. We knew we were getting a Chinese child between the age of 10 and 13. We knew that they were here for approximately nine days. We knew that the kids would go to school from 8:30 a.m. until noon for English language lesson and that in the afternoon they would have other, more art-directed, activities.
After participating in the orientation session prior to our kid’s arrival, it really stood out to me how different the various kids’ experiences with their host families would be. We have a 10-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. They were both excited about the prospect of an exchange student. Yes, my daughter was hoping for a girl and my son was happy with a boy (10 years old). We live on a small farm, with a small house and do not lead an extravagant lifestyle. We do have a lot of fun and friends are always welcome and summer barbecues are frequent, always with plenty of children present.
That was a huge part of our exchange student’s experience. Good food, fun, building a campfire in the backyard and, yes, roasted marshmallows.
Our boy may go home thinking only of Disneyland but that is OK. He did have some great experiences here and we all had a good time. He may come from a wealthier background but he got to experience life in the country where hide and seek is played in the tall grass, the pigs are running loose, along with the goats, chickens, dogs and kids. Ke Jung was an exceptional guest with great manners and a willingness to participate. I understand that perhaps not all the kids were the same, but again we did it for our own experience as much as for these kids.
Yes, we would participate again. We all appreciate the heart and soul that Resha put into this program. The farewell at the beach was a blessing for all. It is unfortunate that Japhet Weeks’ microscopic view could not take in the big picture, and that day at the beach really summed up a large portion. There were lots of smiling faces, wet and sandy bodies and a good night’s rest at the end of the day.
— Lisa Hatfield, Bayside
I was surprised by the tenor of Japhet Weeks’ article about the Northwest International Student Exchange project that took place locally. My family hosted a lovely 10-year-old girl named Zi Xuan from Chengdu, China, who we all grew very attached to despite lack of a shared language.
While the program was not without its glitches and challenges, and I don’t doubt that some families’, and some kids’, experiences were tougher than others, Japhet Weeks’ article focused almost exclusively on the troubles and disappointments, and very little on the importance of making connections between people of different backgrounds. Yes, the students in this program were definitely affluent, in most cases I suspect more so than the hosts. But there is something to be gained by these city kids from prosperous Chinese families by visiting rural Northern California and getting a taste of the culture here. They saw pristine beaches (by all accounts a rarity in China) and the Farmers’ Market, studied birds in the marsh and English at Equinox school, and were welcomed and looked after by people who had been perfect strangers to them.
Our guest played with my Chinese-born 2-year-old as if they’d been friends forever, and taught her Mandarin words. Her parents invited us to visit them in Chengdu. Our horizons were expanded by her presence and I think seeing an entirely different part of the world and way of life will make an impression on her and her developing understanding of the way the world works.
If Weeks had been at the send-off for the students on Sunday morning, he would have seen more than a few kids and more than a few host families in tears at having to say goodbye. Those connections are real and not token. In a time of much global tension, being good ambassadors is important. I am grateful to the N.I.S.E. program for giving us the opportunity to do so.
— Jennifer McFadden, Blue Lake
Sweet Spot: TIE GAME! Lisa Hatfield and Jen McFadden each win a Bon Boniere sundae for sending our favorite letters of the week.