Last year, 13 students from Valencia, Spain, stayed with Moorestown families for a memorable visit to the U.S. as part of the Moorestown-Valencia Summer Exchange.
“It’s been really cool,” said 18-year-old student Nacho Pinazo, who stayed with township resident Joretta Wong and her family, according to an earlier story in The Sun.
“It’s not a culture shock because I’ve seen this country in movies … My family is really good, too, so I’m glad I have them.”
Plans for bringing a cultural exchange program to the township started in 2019 with Moorestown residents Maggie and Dan Ladik, after their colleague shared his participation in a similar program.
“He had told us how when he was young, he had spent several summers going on this exchange opportunity here in the U.S., in Wisconsin, and that his parents – who are both teachers – ended up taking over the program and had continued taking their students every summer,” Maggie said.
Fast forward to 2022, when host families and students from Spain visited sites around Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City for two weeks, and engaged in activities that included sporting events, river tubing and hanging out on the beach.
“Some of them did make relationships,” Maggie said of all the exchange students, including those of the families. “Part of the idea of the program, it’s not just limited to the time visiting, but a lot of it takes place in the months beforehand when they start to get to know each other.”
Maggie worked to help build bonds between everyone before the students’ arrival.
“I was doing small meetings throughout the months prior for everybody to get to know each other,” she explained. “I would also have a group chat, and once a week, I would start a chat among the students and talk about something that was going on here (the U.S.) just to get to know each other.”
Come this summer, 11 international students will stay with Moorestown families from July 15 through July 29.
“What’s expected is for you (host families) to welcome that student in the house as if you were welcoming a family member that was coming to visit,” Maggie noted. “ … This year, I’m not going to plan as many group events, and I’m going to allow for more down-time and more organic get-togethers between the kids.”
“The students were talking to each other all the time, so they like to organize their own social events,” Dan added.
Moorestown resident Tara Keenan and her family hosted a student last year, and she praised Maggies’ coordination of activities.
“I think it was just the right amount, because it really took away from parents who didn’t have time to plan and organize, for them to just say, ‘Ah, this is what’s planned, I can send my kid and I don’t even have to think about it,’” Keenan said.
She shared her experience seeing the students and host families enjoy each other’s company.
“I’ll never forget being at the beach and watching this group of 14 boys just playing American football and running in the water and just all being buddies like they’ve been together for years,” Keenan recalled.
“It was really just very charming and memorable. It was an amazing moment just to watch them as individuals be with each other.”
For more information on the Moorestown-Valencia Summer Exchange 2023 program, visit its official Facebook page.