Saturday, May 10, 2008

Defining Moment #6 - Exchange Students

I've written about one of our exchange students, Takashi, in previous posts. He was the one who most completely immersed himself in our home- and family-life. He is the one who has come back to visit us, both in Oregon and in Alaska. He is the one who called Dan and I, "Dad" and "Mom," and talked of Chris and Tim as being his "brothers." He is the one I think of as our "Japanese son."

However, Takashi was only one of a number of international folks who lived with us. Most of them were from Japan, but not all.

The first was Akira, an uncharacteristically tall Japanese boy with a great sense of humor and a zest for American life.

Here are (left to right) my dad, Dan, me and Akira at the Newberg Old Fashioned Days parade.

The next summer Akihito came to stay with us. He loved tennis, and was happy that we lived walking distance to some courts.

Akihito, Chris and Tim, at a picnic

Then came Tadashi, who was not a student, but a teacher/chaperon for a group of students. Tadashi had a good grasp of English (he was an English teacher, in fact) and enjoyed engaging us in philosophical discussions . . . "You Americans don't kill whales because they are beautiful animals. But it is okay to kill ugly animals?"

Tadashi, arriving in Newberg with some roses for his host family (us)

Next came Takashi, our "son," who warned us, when he was about to depart for home, that we would never host another student like him -- who would be integrated into our family as completely as he was; who would be a "son" like he was.

Takashi loved to cook. Here he is preparing a meal for us.

Concurrent with and following Takashi's stay, we also provided a home to Fumi, another Japanese boy who had befriended Takashi, and was not happy with his assigned host-family.

While Fumi was living with us, his mother came for a visit. She was so pretty, and looked young enough to be Fumi's sister!

Victor, from Brazil, didn't officially live with us, but he spent a lot of time in our home, because he befriended both Takashi and Fumi. Victor was a joy! He had a wonderful personality, and the best laugh. He came back to visit us several years later, after becoming a judge in the Brazilian legal system.

Victor, Takashi and Fumi got to go through the graduation ceremonies at Newberg High. Dan and I helped chaperon the Senior all-night alcohol-free party, which was a lot of fun.

Then came Rodrigo, from Colombia. He was our one failure. Try as we might, Rodrigo wasn't happy in our home, and made life difficult for all of us. We requested he be moved to another home after Christmas (I guess Takashi may have been right!).

Here's Rodrigo at Christmas time. We always tried to make Christmas as special for our exchange kids as it was for our own.

And finally we hosted a young girl (our ONLY girl!) from the Ukraine, named Katerina. She was only in the U.S. for a three-week stay, so we didn't have the chance to get to know her as well as some of the others. (I can't locate a picture of her, but she was very pretty.)

Our experiences with these young people -- both the wonderful memories and the trying times -- defined me in several ways.
  • My American way of thinking was challenged and expanded, and I saw life from new perspectives. For instance, have you ever tried to help a Japanese student study for and pass a semester-long American History course? Consider, just as one example, explaining the Salem Witch Trials!
  • I became a better communicator, and fairly skilled at non-verbal communication. In their early days with us, most of these students spoke and understood very little English. We frequently relied upon pantomime or picture-drawing. Even after they had been with us for several months, there were miscommunications that had to be resolved; and I learned how vital facial expressions, body language and touch were to effective communication.
  • I became, in one sense, the missionary I always wanted to be. I had the opportunity to teach these young folks about the God of the Bible, through example and earnest discussions, without ever traveling to Japan, Brazil, Colombia or the Ukraine.
  • My desire to learn was stimulated, and opportunities were opened up to me. I became so fascinated with Japan, its culture and language, that I took six years of Japanese language study and even taught a couple of quarters of conversational Japanese at Portland Community College. I was then hired on as an adjunct ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at George Fox, where I worked with college-age students from both Asia and South America. I doubt that any of these rich and rewarding experiences would have been mine had I not been touched by these kids.
  • Besides defining and refining me, hosting was also a rich experience for our two sons, who gained an understanding of other cultures, while sharing their space, their time, their parents and their friends, and exchanging ideas with these young people.

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