This past January, Sue and I, along with two other Menlo Church families, became the host parents for three Alfa & Omega high school students from Dénia. Those Spanish teenagers spent the following three months experiencing American culture - California Style - as freshmen at our local public high school, Menlo-Atherton High School (M-A) in Menlo Park, 30 miles south of San Francisco.
Our adventure began when Eunice Pastor, the director of Colegio Alfa & Omega and founding DBF board member, laid out her vision to me and Sue for a new three-month study abroad program for third year ESO (secondary) students. Alfa & Omega students and their families had been asking for an opportunity to study in the United States, and Eunice and DBF felt called to make it happen. The program would provide an opportunity for Alfa & Omega students to live in the homes of American Christians, experience American culture and attend an American high school. Eunice envisioned Spanish teenagers totally embedded within the host family, helping around the house, praying with the family before meals, going to church, playing games, cooking, etc. We discussed a potential study abroad term of three months to allow students to stay as long as possible while only needing a tourist visa - a much less complicated process for Alfa & Omega administrators and families. With a lot of excitement among students and their families, Alfa & Omega and DBF's preparation, and support from the host families in America, Eunice's vision soon came to fruition.
Sue and I agreed to host one of the students and quickly enlisted two other Menlo Church families, Suzanne and Les Koonce and JuneAn and Kevin Lanigan, who were willing to serve as host families and join us on this adventure. Another key member of the team was Clara, our 22 year old daughter and recent college graduate, who was living at home as she worked in Menlo Park. Clara was able to pick the kids up from M-A every day on her way home from work.
Once the host families committed to bringing new kids into their homes, the next step was to meet the students and their families in Spain. This past September, while Sue and I were visiting Dénia, we had the opportunity to meet Maria, Leah and Kiko with their parents over tapas and fresh fish at Maria’s home. That night, we got to know the three students (who would soon be known to us as the 3 Amigos) and share photos of their host families eagerly awaiting them in Menlo Park. The 3 Amigos seemed excited and more than ready to head out on their adventure. Maria, who would live with the Johnsons, studies ballet and dreams to someday be a doctor. Leah, who would be a part of the Koonce family, loves art and is planning to attend university in the US, preferably in Southern California. Lastly, Kiko, an accomplished kite surfer who competes around the world and loves to cook - would spend his three months with the Lanigans.
Above in Dénia: Getting to know the 3 Amigos and their families.
With great anticipation, the 3 Amigos finally left Spain on January 8th to begin their long journey to California.
While we began the registration process in December of 2017, we had to wait for the 3 Amigos to arrive to complete their M-A high school registration.
Although four of the six parents were new to the complex M-A registration process, the Lanigans took charge since they went through it twice before with their two daughters. Lots of lessons learned along the way, but overall the process was smooth enough and ultimately successful! The 3 Amigos were registered in the M-A freshman class!
Alfa & Omega's very strong English program prepared the 3 Amigos well, but jumping into an American high school is not easy for most non-native English speakers. Fortunately, M-A not only delivers superb academics but also provides excellent support for English learners, a great place for perfecting English language skills.
The 3 Amigos quickly became part of our families. We cooked, watched movies, went shopping, went on walks, and managed to enjoy every moment regardless of some language barriers! The kids also joined us each Sunday at Menlo Church for a sermon followed by a high school youth ministries gathering.
The 3 Amigos worked hard on their studies throughout the weekdays, but we did our best to serve as good tour guides of the Bay Area and beyond each weekend. Here are photos of some of our excursions:
We had a fun group outing to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk above which is a classic American amusement park. The hands down favorite weekend trip though was the road trip down to Santa Barbara hosted by the Lanigan family. Santa Barbara is a bit closer to the stereotypical Southern California experience that everyone knows from watching American movies. This was a perfect winter break outing for the SoCal Amigos below!
The time sped by and soon our role as host families sadly came to an end. During those three months, we had so much fun and were able to bond with our students from Dénia as well as with the other host families. But, we eventually had to say goodbye to our 3 Amigos :( and send them back to Spain.
The three month term was a very intense time for all of us involved. This was the first implementation of Alfa & Omega's Study Abroad program in a public high school so we were figuring out a lot of things as we went. We had to navigate our way through the byzantine process of high school registration and had to recall how to be parents of 14 year old teenagers again. Most of us had forgotten how busy those times were - from making breakfast and sack lunches each morning, getting them to school on time, making sure they had rides home, helping them with homework and ensuring that they turned their assignments in on time.
And thank goodness for texting! This was our life line with the host parents and Clara. I think we must have had an average of 10 to 20 daily group texts. So many breaking newscasts and funny comments. Plans were constantly changing for the teenagers. Looking back at some of the threads, I can't help but laugh out loud.
And it was intense for the 3 Amigos as well. After all, they had to get used to a new country, a new language, a new family and a new school all within a short three months. And at fourteen years old! I can't imagine my own kids doing that at such a young age. Our Spaniards were so brave and always ready for the next adventure.
Even though at times we host families were exhausted or felt a bit overwhelmed, we would remember that this wasn't about us. This was about serving Alfa & Omega and supporting the work that God is doing in the Costa Brava through Jorge, Encarnita, Eunice, Hugo, Maria Eugenia and all the faculty and staff at Alfa & Omega. And regardless of the work we put in, it was truly about making sure that our 3 Amigos enjoyed themselves and left with a positive impression of American Christian life and culture. With God's help and provision, the mission was accomplished!
Menlo Park, CA