Today our kids started school with their host siblings and we got to visit. The school is amazing - 1800 students elementary through high school (equivalent). We got an extensive tour including the gym, theater, swimming pool (our kids will have swim lessons while there), 2 outdoor playgrounds, etc. The tour was given by the wonderful teacher who organized the whole exchange. He was taking us around the whole school, and we finally asked when we could see our kids. He had understood from Constanza that it would be harder if our kids saw us, so hadn´t been planning to take us to see them. We changed that course with good humor and were brought out to the playground where our kids´classes started to appear for recess.
The kids had been with their host families for two nights already. There had been some phone contact yesterday and weheard some stories of homesick children, so we were anxious to see them. Most of the kids were doing great. Several of the kids, even some who had been very nervous about the whole experience, ran over with smiles and hugged their parents. They chatted for a little while then went back to be with their new friends. Our kids were clearly interacting not only with their host siblings but with other children also. (We brought 15 kids and there were more than 15 families that wanted to host children - clearly their community was excited about the experience.) A couple of our kids´parents had left Madrid already, and one girl´s mom is not arriving until next week (she flew over with a classmate´s family), so we played surrogate parents for them.
My son of course was too busy playing soccer or whatever, and only came over when I sent another TIS-er to make sure he knew that we were there. (I knew better than to go into the middle of the playground.) He walked over with his host brother, full of body language that said, ¨please don´t embarass me by hugging me,¨ barely answered my questions, then seemed relieved when he was dismissed to go back to his friends. I did get a good snicker: although I had bought him a collared shirt as required, his host mom had covered my back - he was wearing his host brother´s pants ☺.
A couple of the kids were still pretty nervous and uneasy. It´s a big experience for 10- & 11-year olds! It was difficult for them to see their parents - and certainly difficult for their parents to see them so uneasy. The host parents are working hard to make them comfortable, and Constanza is paying extra attention - she will be at the school all day every day and checks in regularly with all the kids and with the host families as needed. Constanza´s years of experience suggest that if they just stick it out, they´ll be fine and remember the trip fondly.
(The photo in the snow is from a Sunday trip that one TISer took with her host family into the mountains on Sunday. Madrid´s cold, but not that cold!)
Today the parents scattered for some sightseeing time - we´ll reunite with our kids on Friday and check back in with you then.
Linda Bonder, 5th grade parent - Marketing & Communications Director, email@example.com