Growing up in outside of Syracuse, N.Y, I lived a pretty sheltered life with a limited world view. My parents were both born and raised in that same small town. Though my dad attended college, he doesn’t have a degree and for living in New York State her entire life, my mom had never been to New York City until just a few years ago. When we took trips growing up, it was always within state or nearby. In fact, until my honeymoon almost 10 years ago, the only country outside of the United States I had visited was Canada.
To say my worldview is much larger than my parents would be misleading, because though I have traveled all over the United States and moved to the very foreign “South” more than a decade ago, my passport has the same two stamps that theirs does – Canada and Aruba. My husband has at least been overseas, having visited Greece. With such a limited view, I jumped on an opportunity to give my children an international experience without leaving the security of our home. I did this by volunteering to be a host family for the World School International Forum 2012.
The World School organization was founded in 1997 by Masaki Mastudaira, the former Chairman and present advisor to the board of trustees at Kanto International Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan. From 1997 to 2001 the Forum was held in Tokyo, hosted by its founding institution, Kanto International Senior High School. Building on the success of the first five years of World School Forum, the organization has extended its mission to other countries during the last decade. A different member school hosts the Forum every other year, with the event returning to Japan in alternate years. Recent host countries have included South Korea, Australia and Italy. The United States was the first country other than Japan to host the forum in 2002 and ten years later, the forum returned to Tennessee.
The mission of World School is to create a truly borderless entity for the purpose of helping the participants create their image of an ideal educational program. The program is designed to train students to adopt a global perspective by becoming receptive to differences and to enable them to form lasting friendships. It will also prepare them to excel in a globalized society.
To the community that hosts the Forum, it is a rich opportunity to learn from the participants and share the local culture. Having served on the World School Committee, I had been involved in the planning of the Forum for over a year. As we discussed the home stay portion of the forum, I was intrigued by what the experience could mean to our family.
I have five-year-old twin daughters. They made their first 12-hour car ride to visit my family in NY when they were 11 months old and have made almost annual trips back there since then. They are acutely aware that our country is vast. I recently discussed a planned trip for Thanksgiving and their response was “Grandma and Grandpa’s house if far away, can’t they just come here?”
I can remember growing up and especially at their age, not being aware of much outside my hometown and state. Florida was a far off place where the magical Disney World was located, but I never really dreamed of seeing other countries.
To prepare the girls for our special visitors, I started telling them that we’d be meeting new friends that had travelled from far away to see us. As soon as I found out what country our guests were from, I showed them the countries on the map. I showed them how close Canada was to where mommy grew up and contrasted that with how far Romania was from Tennessee.
When our home stay weekend arrived and I returned home with our guests, I was impressed to see how much of my brief lessons the girls had retained. Our students were Kate, from Canada, and Daria, from Romania. It was funny to hear Andie and Gracie assail them with questions even before the made it into the house. When we pulled the car into the garage Andie came bursting through the door and Gracie was close on her heels. “Hello Kate! Hello Daria!,” they exclaimed. “Which one is Kate? You know you have the same name as our mommy.”
I was equally impressed with how interested, loving, patient and attentive Kate and Daria were with the girls. That first night, they had just returned from the Washington, D.C., excursion, so they had already been on a bus for around 9 hours when I picked them up in Harrogate. It is an hour to my house in Knoxville, so they had to have been exhausted. Nevertheless, they entertained the girls’ imaginations until it was well past the twins’ bedtime. They let the excited little girls give them a tour of the house and show them their room.
Since the home stay weekend came on the weekend before Halloween, we had grand plans to go to a pumpkin patch, corn maze or fall festival the next morning. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and we had to settle for a more traditional American high schooler’s weekend experience of going to the movies. Andie and Gracie stayed home for the movie, but not before getting Daria and Kate to play hide and seek with them.
After the movie, we came back home and made Halloween cookies to take to a costume party later that night. Again Kate and Daria showed tremendous patience with Andie and Gracie, helping them roll out the dough and cut out ghosts, pumpkins and tombstones.
The party was at one of our close friends’ houses and included a bonfire and a performance from an authentic American garage band. I tried to stick close to Daria and Kate since they were among strangers in a strange land, but there was no need for my worry. They made friends easily and seemed to talk to everyone. I think they especially enjoyed the band, which because it was a costume party included James Bond on the keyboard, Big Bird as the lead vocalist and Shrek on bass.
At the end of our weekend, Andie and Gracie were sad to see Kate and Daria go. Each of our guests left us with special gifts from their countries, something the girls still talk about. Monday morning when Andie and Gracie returned to their school, I was impressed to see how excited they still were from our visit. “We had special guests at our house this weekend,” Andie told the teacher. “Yeah, they were from other countries,” added Gracie. “We live in the United States. Kate is from Canada and Daria is from Romania,” Andie followed up. “Canada is close Mrs. Hale, but we’d have to take a boat to get to Daria’s country,” Gracie said.