I met some of my new exchange students at the airport this weekend; six of my new group arrived in Portland on Saturday, as well as students who will be supervised and guided by other local coordinators in NW Oregon and SW Washington. Host families waited excitedly in the waiting room with colorful signs, balloons, and lots of excited murmuring.
You could feel the excitement in the air. People would ask anxiously, “has the plane landed yet?” and “where are they, shouldn’t they be coming out by now?” and “is that them?” And eventually — “there they are!” The excitement is contagious — I felt just as excited and nervous about it as our host families, I think!
The students, on the other hand, looked a bit frazzled and bedraggled, although they tried to smile for their arrival photos. They dragged their carry-on luggage or looking hunched over with packs on their backs, and dragging their feet. They can be forgiven for this; this group came from a 10-day language and culture immersion camp in New England, and had to leave camp shortly after midnight to make it to the airport for their cross-country trek to the West Coast.
Some of the host families have many things planned for August: trips to family elsewhere in the state, visits to Seattle or San Francisco, excursions to summer farmers’ and crafts markets, perhaps the State Fair or the Oregon coast. There will be visits to local landmarks: the families’ local high school, of course, where their student will attend school for a semester or academic year; their town or city’s downtown center; places where teens hang out. In Portland, favorite places to “show off” the city include Powell’s Books, the Portland Saturday Market, and Niketown, among other fun attractions. We will have an entry meeting to talk about rules and expectations (perhaps not so exciting) and a “get to know each other” meeting with pizza or a sleepover (perhaps more exciting).
But all that can wait. For this weekend, as the students arrive, it’s a blurry whiz of a ride to a place they do not yet call “home,” but will; a whirlwind tour of their new home provided by excited family members; something to eat other than airplane snacks, and a long night’s sleep. And with that, our year begins. It may take a few days (or a few weeks….) for the students to really be themselves, and then the year really begins!