Joetopia

Host a summer exchange student for an international adventure without leaving home

It was a sad day Wednesday when we said goodbye to the last of our summer exchange students, putting them on the bus to Los Angeles to catch flights to Russia and France.

They arrived in mid-June as part of the EF (Education First) program, which brought more than 120 teens to the Central Coast for this year’s North County session.

This summer, we kicked things up a notch and added a third girl to the typical two we’ve hosted the three previous years.

Along with Olga from Moscow and Océane from western France, we also welcomed Nicole, who came from a town near Tuscany.

It was the first time we’ve had a student from Italy stay with us. Each year, we’ve been hoping Italy would be one of the countries visiting because we have family ties to that country. My grandparents immigrated to America in the early 1900s from a small town midway between Rome and Naples.

So it was fun having Nicole here to answer my dad’s questions and hear stories about his visits to the country where his parents were born.

Nicole lives near a castle on a lake neighboring her grandparents, who cook big Sunday dinners for the family each week.

Fun fact: She had never tried Fettucine Alfredo and didn’t even seem to have heard of the dish. So we made it for her one night. How curious for an Italian to come all the way to California to try a pasta made famous by a chef in Rome.

Océane was our third French student. We’ve had one each of the last three years, making it the best represented nation in our exchange student history.

Interestingly, they live nowhere near each other. Océane lives out near the west coast, while Zoe from last year lives toward the middle south of the country and Charlotte from two years ago is way up north.

If we ever get out to Europe to reunite with these girls, we’ll spend a good bit of time roaming France connecting with the trio.

Océane took a special interest in baseball, and I tried to explain how it worked by watching some Dodger games with her. She also loves bananas.

Fun fact: She dislikes most vegetables, especially leafy greens. One night, we went for pizza at Woodstock’s, and the only things she wanted from the salad were the cucumbers and tomatoes. Another night, we made a spinach lasagna, and she meticulously extracted each little piece of greenery from between the layers of pasta.

I kind of felt bad how we kept giving her food she had to pick apart. But she was a good sport about it.

Our third student, Olga, lives in a huge apartment building in Moscow and wants to study international relations when she graduates from high school next year.

We stayed up late multiple nights chatting about the differences in politics and culture between Russia and America. I showed her clips of Putin on “Saturday Night Live” and told her thanks a lot for hacking our election and getting us stuck with Trump.

She was one of the best English speakers we’ve ever had and has studied the language since first grade. She was very diligent about working on her accent so that she could talk like a native English speaker and not like a Russian speaking English.

Near the end of her visit, she told us that her friends call her Olya, but try as I might, I could never quite pronounce it to her satisfaction. The “ly” is a very subtle, distinct sound that is difficult for us to say. She just ended up laughing at our efforts.

Fun fact: Olga is a big hard rock/heavy metal fan. Think Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. The pictures on her wall at home make it look more like a teenager’s room from the 1980s than today.

All three girls were a delight to have in our home and blended in just like members of the family. They took trips to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and on Olga and Océane’s last weekend, we were able to squeeze in the circus, Hearst Castle and an overnight camping trip to Sequoia National Park. (Nicole’s stay was a week shorter than the other two.)

Over four years, we have now hosted a total of nine students, and each year we make long-lasting new friendships, learn about different cultures and try our best to give them an honest look at American life.

It’s a wonderful opportunity, especially for families with kids, and much less demanding than full-year programs.

Every summer, the local organizers need host families, so if you’re even a little bit interested, check into it and have an international adventure without leaving home.

Joe Tarica: 805-781-7911, @joetarica

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