All the Way From Madrid
Writer / Erin Smith . Photographer / Chris Williams
Ever wondered what it would be like to host an exchange student? Jill and Trent Newport were curious too. Their neighbors who hosted an exchange student several years ago introduced them to the idea.
Taking the Plunge
Six years ago when their oldest, Savanah, was a junior, they decided to take the plunge and welcomed Lenka from Slovakia. They still Skype with Lenka about once a month and look forward to visiting her one day — maybe when she marries.
This year, their son, Max, is a junior, and as a family, they made the decision to welcome another exchange student into their home.
Each year, Center Grove High School accepts international exchange students. The students come to learn English, explore American culture, become part of a family and attend school. Host families volunteer to open their homes to a new international “son” or “daughter.” They embrace new cultures, languages, foods and traditions and share their American traditions with the students.
The Newports worked with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) which supports host families from start to finish. Jill emphasized, “The CIEE makes the process pretty seamless from finding a good family match and getting the student to Indy to helping families acclimate. They are there from beginning to end, so you’re never on your own if you don’t want to be, and are a great source of support.”
Finding a Match
So exactly how do you pick an exchange student to be responsible for — to be a guardian of — for an entire year? Trent likens it to Match.com. He explained that families get to look through profiles of students to determine who might be the best fit for their family. CIEE helps with this process.
For the Newports, it was important that their exchange student would like outdoor activities and would have something in common with their son, Max. They settled on Alvaro Moveno: a 6’3″ 15-year-old who enjoys basketball, chess, robotics and being active. Max loves chess and robotics. Plus, the entire family loves staying active with hikes and bike riding. Bingo!
A perfect fit.
Preparation for hosting an exchange student includes a home visit from CIEE and a background check. The Newports also discussed how best to acclimate Alvaro to their family and studied up on the culture from his home: Madrid, Spain.
They also made an extra effort to obtain photos from his family. When Alvaro entered his room for the first time, they greeted him with framed pictures of his family, making him feel welcomed and comforted.
When asked, “What was your greatest fear in hosting an exchange student?” the Newports responded, “The language barrier!” Although most exchange students have some grasp of the English language, families are never entirely sure how this challenge will play out once they arrive. The use of translation software has lessened this challenge, but it is not without quirks.
Trent explained that when they asked for photos of Alvaro’s family from his father (translated in Spanish through “What’s Up” app), they got back pictures with a single line of text: “Sorry, we are ugly.” This seemed like an odd response.
The Newports figured the translation of their request might have come over as, “Please send pretty pictures of your family.” Both Jill and Trent laughed. “Being a part of our family requires a great sense of humor. We hoped this was a good sign!”
Alvaro arrived on July 30 and hopes to see and experience as much of America as possible. A visit to the Grand Canyon is top on his list. He has already seen an Indians game — a first-time experience since there is no baseball in Madrid. He also got to walk around downtown Indy, mingling with the Gen Con crowd.
Now the focus is getting into a routine for school and keeping homework in check. They have fun vacations to the East Coast and many family gatherings planned for spring break and weekends.
The Newport family wants to encourage other families to host exchange students. They believe interacting with people from different cultures gives families a new perspective. Welcoming a stranger into your home takes a lot of love and patience and requires vulnerability.
Although the risk is great, the Newport family believes the experience is well worth it! They look forward to sharing many experiences with Alvaro and hope their relationship will last long after he heads home to Madrid.
To learn more about becoming a host family, please call Janet Shaffer at CIEE at 317-372-8971.