Joetopia

Exchange students’ smiles are an antidote to Trump’s hate

For the past three summers, we’ve hosted pairs of exchange students for about a month as they immersed themselves in American life and took classes to practice their English skills.

We’ve found the experience to be an absolute delight and a way to broaden our understanding of other cultures while making what we hope become lifelong friendships.

Past years have brought Ann from Russia, Charlotte from France, Kitty from China and Jocelyn from Hong Kong.

This year, we welcomed 15-year-old Jasmin from Germany and 16-year-old Zoé from France, and they couldn’t have picked a better time to walk through our door last week just as Donald Trump and his hate-mongering took the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Their cheerful smiles were a welcome relief from four days of ignorant paranoia and recalcitrant arrogance.

It’s at this point in the column that I could easily charge down a Trump tangent filled with disbelief and condemnation at the daily offense of a man who thinks Vladimir Putin is “a better leader” than President Barack Obama and encourages Russia to hack our emails and compromise the American electoral process.

Yeah, Trump actually said that, and if you think he’s in any way right, honest, just, mature, dignified, informed, curious, intelligent, fair or simply sane, I have a bankrupt casino in Atlantic City to sell you.

He’s an insufferable wannabe strongman whose scowl is longer than the list of people he’s insulted on his way to the top. He isn’t qualified to mop the floor at the White House much less occupy the Oval Office.

Oops. See how easy that was?

But back to the girls, who are fun and engaging and try their best to answer our questions about their home countries.

Two years ago, we asked Ann from Russia what she ate for breakfast.

“Borscht,” she deadpanned.

I think she was kidding, but to this day, I’m not entirely sure.

The other night I asked Jasmin and Zoé what kinds of things they studied in their history classes, particularly on the subject of World War II, which so profoundly altered the trajectories of Germany and France.

Jasmin was visibly troubled by her country’s Nazi legacy, astounded that someone like Adolf Hitler was able to commit such atrocities.

I asked her if she had visited any of the concentration camps. She has not yet, but she said that it is part of their school curriculum next year.

Zoé told me she’s visited Normandy and seen the beaches where the D-Day invasion occurred.

On Sunday, we took them up the coast past Ragged Point and scrambled up a creek over boulders and fallen trees. We pointed out Hearst Castle and stopped to look at the zebras.

On Wednesday, they and their fellow exchange students with the Education First program spent the day in Santa Barbara, where they perused the shops at Paseo Nuevo.

Jasmin, whose favorite color is burgundy, returned with a flannel shirt, hair bow and a few elastic chokers — all featuring the deep red color. Zoé hit up Abercrombie & Fitch and bought a T-shirt and sweatshirt, which is the very same thing Charlotte sought last year.

French girls are big Abercrombie fans.

Jasmin also has a friend who gave her a souvenir list that includes Lucky Charms and Rainbow Nerds. And the one restaurant she doesn’t want to miss before returning home? Taco Bell.

Zoé wants to visit a Nike store. Fortunately, we have one nearby! I think she may be looking for some Michael Jordan high-tops, because she’s a good basketball player. She drained outside shots and made sharp passes when we played a little pickup game on the driveway the other night.

But back to Trump. I asked the girls if they knew who he was.

Jasmin immediately scrunched her nose and frowned.

“Do you like him?” I asked.

“No!” she said, before adding that she had one question about him.

“Why is he orange?”

That is a very good question, and like many things about Trump, one I have no answer for.

I like these kids. They’re friendly and kind and curious — unafraid to leave home, meet new people and explore the world at a time when hate can strike anywhere at any moment.

I applaud them for that adventurous spirit. We are happy to have them.

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