Monday, August 15, 2011

Nice to have friends around the world

When I was growing up, we were not a family of travelers. Aside from our visits downstate for family reunions and maybe an occasional jaunt across the Indiana border (which was about a 20-minute drive from my home), we were always at home. I did take a trip with my older brother and his new wife when I was about five-years-old to visit her family in St. Louis. I loved the long road trip.

Then when I was 12, my aunt and uncle came to visit in preparation for my big sister's wedding. They had no children, were both well educated and were educators themselves and world travelers. We'd seen them occasionally over the years and were fond of them both. We were fascinated by Uncle John, a native of Spain who spoke several languages. They offered to take us back to stay with them in Minneapolis and my dad's other sister and her husband, parents of seven with homes in Nevada and Missouri, invited us to their Missouri farm.

We were to spend a total of three weeks away from home.  The first two weeks were spent on my aunt and uncle's farm and visiting their neighbors and daughter on their farms. It was great to spend a couple weeks in the outdoors with open fields as far as the eye could see.

At the end of the two weeks, my Uncle John came and picked us up to take us up to their place in Minnesota. I spent my 13th birthday driving across three states. When we got there, we visited an amusement park and had fun in their neighborhood. For part of our stay, they had a house guest from Switzerland. We were tickled to be meeting someone from another country, especially when she gave us all some Swiss chocolate she'd brought with her. My aunt and uncle were such interesting people. Everywhere they traveled they made friends and kept in touch with the friends they made. I always admired that about them.

Fast forward a couple decades and my younger sister for several years has had foreign exchange students staying with her from such places as Thailand, France and Japan. We've enjoyed getting to know all these teenagers over the years and I think it's great for my kids to meet people from other countries and learn a little about different cultures.

One of my sister's former exchange students came back for a visit this last month. On her birthday, we went to a Cubs game together and went out for dinner for sushi (which does seem odd -- we probably should have taken her out for deep dish Chicago-style pizza.) She heads back home this week and we will all miss her. Another former student who was with my sister last year returned from Vietnam to attend college here, so for the next four years she'll be part of our family for summers and Christmas and Easter breaks. We'll enjoy having her around and look forward to meeting more friends from around the world as my sister continues to sponsor exchange students.

Rui, our friend from Japan.

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