If you’re at the Portland airport this Saturday (or dozens of other airports around the country), you might see some strange goings on. Of course, it’s not unusual for travelers to occasionally see welcome balloons, or families waiting expectantly with welcome signs. But at this time of year it’s a special scene, one that is being repeated hundreds of times between now and each week of August until school starts.
In some regions of the U.S., it’s already begun. But for us here in Oregon and southern Washington, it’s pretty just getting underway: Saturday is Arrival Day for our first group of high school exchange students for the 2014-2015 year.
Shortly before noon Pacific time, and continuing through the afternoon, exhausted teens from countries around the world will begin to arrive at the Portland airport to start their academic year in the U.S.
Host families they have never met will be waiting for them. Some of these families have gone to great lengths to welcome these foreign teens — repainting bedrooms, re-arranging space in homes, making personal welcome signs. Their only communication to date may have been an email or two. Yet these strangers will meet with the kind of the enthusiasm usually reserved for immediate family members.
In a way these teens *are* members of the family. They’ll be here for up to 10 months. Mothers and fathers are making plans to register their new “sons” or “daughters” for classes at high school and figuring out sports and other extra-curricular schedules. They will worry when their “children” go out at night and, eventually, nag them to do their homework like parents around the world. Host brothers and sisters will take them around town, show them the local sights, introduce them to the American concept of front-seat rivalry known as “shotgun,” and squabble over who gets the last ice cream bar or brownie.
With the stroke of a pen (well, more likely, the clack of a few keystrokes), we exchange coordinators create new bonds. It’s a joy to watch, an awesome responsibility . . . and there’s a ton work yet to do. There’s a bit of an untraveled road to discover, and there may be some potholes along the way. But there’s fun and excitement in that road of discovery, and an unparalleled opportunity to share one’s life and culture. Let the fun begin!