A little over two weeks ago, I hopped on the T (subway) and headed downtown to meet up with Srusht, the Iraqi high school student we’d be hosting while she participated in the Boston portion of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP).
We had signed up to be hosts in June, and soon after learned that my budding internationalist daughter, Kayla, was selected to participate alongside the Iraqis. Off she went to Brattleboro, Vermont on July 14 for a leadership program at World Learning’s SIT campus. A week later, she and one other area teen were back in Boston with eight Iraqis, who then headed home with their host families. The local program, organized by Global Youth Leadership Institute, kept them exhausted with activities each day, and the host family’s job was mostly to provide breakfast and dinner, along with a few activities on the two Sundays they were with us.
So if you had visited my kitchen last week, you could have nibbled from the assortment of breads (Lebanese, Syrian, and Afghan), the Kiri cheese, the containers of dolmas, or any of the assortment of other foods commonly associated with the Mideast that I picked up to keep Srusht well fed. (As host mother, I took seriously my job of ensuring she didn’t waste away during her visit, and familiar foods were a big help.)
The whole experience was great for all of us. Kayla had an eye-opening three-plus weeks with her new friends. (She’s still with them in Washington, DC — due to return tomorrow.) The host families enjoyed getting to know our bright and talented students, as well as each other. I had a delicious time checking out the goods at local Arax Market, where they were super helpful in making food selections. And we all had our 15 minutes of fame when The Boston Globe ran a story about the program.
On Monday, we dropped Srusht and Kayla off to meet up with the other DC-bound students. The Boston team is part of a larger group of about 40 students in DC now, following their two weeks of homestays and local programming. (In addition to Boston, following the week at SIT the students were farmed out to Seattle; Bozeman, Montana; and Louisville, Kentucky.)
Possibly the best part of the experience was observing the universality of the teenage condition: They have a flexible sense of time. They’ll sit forever in front of a computer. They sleep late on days off. They like popular music and hanging out together. Despite the obvious sensitivity of interacting with kids from a troubled place, for the host parents our challenges weren’t always cross-cultural. Most days, we simply needed to find creative ways to get the kids out the door on time.