Moorestown families hosted students from Valencia, Spain, for two weeks last month, an experience that created lifelong friendships.
“I arrived, and everyone was so happy for having me,” said student Sofia, who stayed with the Russell family. This was her first time visiting the U.S. and she described everything as bigger.
“I’m used to walking in Valencia in the center, everywhere walking,” she said, “and here if we’re going everywhere, you need to take the car, So it’s different.”
The visit to New Jersey was student Blanca’s first, and she stayed with the Wilson family. She was nervous at the start, but now she sees host student Brooke as family.
“ … I’m really introverted at first,” she recalled, “but I saw that they (Wilson family) were really loving and accepting and everything, and I opened (up) more. And now it’s like she’s (Brooke) my sister.”
The Moorestown-Valencia summer exchange program was started last year through residents Maggie and Dan Ladik. They were inspired by a colleague who participated in a similar program, and after three years of planning and two years interrupted by the pandemic, the Ladiks connected with coordinators Mayte and Emilio Requena to make the exchange happen.
Last year, 13 students and their host families participated in activities that included beach trips, river tubing, and sightseeing. This year, they had pool parties; soccer; Wiffle ball matches; and camping trips, among other activities.
“This group has meshed incredibly well,” Maggie said, explaining how all of the students wanted to see each other every day. “Even on the days that we didn’t plan a group activity, they themselves communicated among each other … ‘Let’s meet at the mall, let’s meet at such and such pool …
“The days don’t end.”
Tara Keenan and her family participated in the program for the second time, and they hosted student Ivan. Last summer Keenan didn’t know what to expect, but this year was easier, and like all the host families, she helped where it was needed.
“I let families know that we’re all here to help each other, and not to worry,” she noted. “I think it’s like just having another family member every day … For me this year, what was different was just encouraging these new families to get involved and to become a host family.”
“They didn’t have an idea how rewarding this is, and now that they’ve been through it they’re like, ‘This is the best thing I think that I’ve ever done,’” Keenan added.
“ … This is a tradition that hopefully we can continue: This is a gift beyond anything we could ever experience.”
Carolina Lugo, Michael DellaRosa, Jack Keenan and Edyliz Quintana all learned something different from the students their families hosted, but they also got to see things through their eyes in a new light. The first day that everyone arrived was quiet, but now Lugo, DellaRosa, Keenan and Quintana look at those two weeks differently.
“ … As the weeks went on, we started to understand each other more, and we grew closer,” Lugo said of her student Maria.
“I definitely saw his personality start to change as time went on,” DellaRosa said of student Alejandro G. “He was very introverted at the beginning, very quiet, and as we got further along, I realized he’s definitely not introverted. He’s very extroverted and he loves to talk.”
The Pazienza family hosted student Jorge and like his peers, he looks forward to seeing his host family in Spain one day.
“It has been an incredible experience that I have enjoyed a lot,” he said. “Thank you for everything, and if they could come to Spain, they are invited to my house.”
Moorestown Mayor Nicole Gillespie hosted Mayte and Emilio and would like to see the program continue yearly.
“I would like for people to know what a great thing this is, not just for the students in Spain, but for their families,” she observed. “And I hope we can keep doing this for a long time.”