This is a midweek version of one of my “what I did on my weekend” posts.
I was at Fletcher through the early evening last night, attending a farewell event for 11 high school students and one accompanying mentor teacher from Iraq. They were in the Boston area through the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), and the organization that arranged their Boston home stays also arranged for them to have the World Peace Foundation offices as their home base. When it came time to celebrate, I helped them arrange space and a meal at Fletcher.
My family connected itself to IYLEP in 2010, when my daughter was one of the U.S. students who, that year, participated alongside the Iraqis. We’ve continued as a host family, and Sara, Hiba, and Hadeel, the three students we hosted this month, join our four other Iraqi friends as members of the family. Along the way, I’ve gathered a volume of knowledge on halal butchers and restaurants in the area (as well as the rules for halal) and Iraqi tastes in food (nothing spicy, please). We’ve figured out where some potential host/IYLEPer challenges might exist, and we search for new ways to prevent misunderstandings. The men in my family know to announce themselves before going in the part of the house where women might be relaxing without their hijabs. The exchange of knowledge definitely goes both ways! And we also have fun — the beach, the Boston Harbor, the Museum of Fine Arts, two barbeques, trips to Indian/Pakistani and Italian restaurants, Chinese take-out (and many fortune cookies), three rounds of pasta, quesadillas, and quiche — all shared with our new friends.
At the farewell event last night, we started off by hearing the reflections of each of the participants. If I had to capture the overall theme, I’d say that that they were initially VERY nervous about their home stays, but they quickly found that their fears were misplaced, and now they see the Boston area as their U.S. home. After the speech-making, we shifted to Fletcher’s Mugar Café for a meal. When all had eaten, the group cleared a small space and started dancing. First, traditional Iraqi dancing. And then…a dozen teens dancing to “Gangnam Style” and doing the “Harlem Shake.” One of the boys pogoed around on one arm in a dazzling bit of break dancing. Such random bits of popular culture that have been embraced by Iraqi kids!
And then the event was over, and everyone went home to pack (and for some, repack, if bags were too heavy). We dropped them off this morning for their flight to the final phase of their stay in the U.S., when they will be in Washington, D.C.
It was such a pleasure to welcome the group and their host families to Fletcher. They searched out the Iraqi flag in the Hall of Flags, and I pointed out to some the profile of Farah Pandith F’95 — whose work I thought might interest them — in our new Hallway of Fame. All in all, last night and the two weeks that preceded represent one of those nice times when my work life and my home life fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.
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