Well, it has been a very busy three weeks: we have had to be considerably more “fun” than we usually are. Our lazy afternoons doing homework and social networking whilst eating popcorn have been replaced by trips all over Las Vegas to show Ivan the sights. It has been exhausting, and yet wonderful. It helps remind me that we live in a pretty cool place: there were lots of things I wanted to show Ivan that we didn’t have time for.
It has been fun to see what Ivan appreciated and did not appreciate about Las Vegas. In the “This is fantastic” category: The Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock, cactii of any kind, brownies (“they are delicious” he said as he ate five of them for breakfast one day), Lucille’s hamburgers (“the best hamburger I have ever eaten”), and smoothies. In the “get this stuff far away from me” category: peanut butter, gravy, church (“meetings in Spain are much shorter”–I told him meetings EVERYWHERE are much shorter than LDS Sunday meetings), and catching the school bus at 5:45 am. Everything else seemed to fall in between those two extremes. The fact that we always drink such cold water was baffling to him. Here I had been refrigerating water for him to take to school every day, and in reality he just wanted a bottle from the garage: he told me the last day he was here that he would have preferred warm water. Oh well. He was a good sport overall and tried everything with a good attitude, and put up with our ignorance on a regular basis.
Here is what I have concluded about exchange students after watching Ivan deal with living with us for three weeks: I am not sure there is a more courageous set of kids anywhere in the world. I watched him come, with fairly good English, and still struggle to understand us and try to communicate his needs when he had them. Here he was staying with complete strangers who would tell him things to do, and expect him to completely understand everything. He had schedules to figure out, family traditions to figure out, rules to figure out, all in a language he didn’t usually speak. Would he like this food we were offering him? He had no way of knowing. Would he like this activity we were taking him to? He would only know by trusting us and trying it regardless. I am not sure many of us would sign up for such an assault to our comfort zones–especially at age 15 when life is already hard enough! And yet, Ivan did. And Ethan will. And I am incredibly proud of them both.
I don’t think it was any coincidence that as we drove him to the airport this morning, my music shuffled to Sheryl Crow’s “Leaving Las Vegas.” As busy as this few weeks has been, I think everyone in our family can agree: we had picked up a stranger but were dropping off a great friend. I suspect Ethan’s reunion with Ivan will be wonderful come March of next year. I am grateful these kids are taking such tremendous risks as we around them enjoy the benefits.