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On the hot summer day of Aug. 10, 1976, I boarded a plane headed to Manila as an exchange student through Rotary International’s program. I was a scrawny 17-year-old who – in a months-long alliance with my Mom – had browbeat my Dad into letting his kid go live in a place whose shores his destroyer had patrolled in WWII.
When he finally agreed to let me go, he issued a stern rebuke to both me and Mom. “If he goes, he stays. The whole year. No matter what.”
My assigned host city was Cagayan de Oro, on the northern coast of the nation’s largest island, Mindanao.
Seven days later, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck the southern coast of the island, leaving devastation caused by both the earthquake and the ensuing tsunamis and aftershocks. Up to 7,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes.
The Visayan word for earthquake is “linog,” and I learned it in the dark of night, while my bed on the second floor of my first host family’s two-story home skittered and hopped across the floor.
From down the hall and through the slatted windows, the word was being screamed by people all around me. “Linog!” “Linog!”
Barely dressed, we stumbled along with our neighbors into the streets as the ground lurched below us as the aftershocks rolled in. Most of the glassware in the house was in pieces, but the structure stood.
It took three days for me to get a phone call through to my home in Las Cruces. Both Mom and I were singing a different tune, but Dad stood his ground. “I’m happy you’re ok. You’re staying.”
And am I ever glad he stood firm. That year was nothing short of amazing, as I learned a new culture, tried a lot of new foods and made friendships that endure all these decades later.
Earthquake notwithstanding, I recommend exchange programs for adventurous students with supportive parents.
I tell you all this because last week, The Bulletin received a press release from World Heritage Student Exchange, which has three students enrolled who are eligible to come to Las Cruces for the upcoming school year. They are Carol from Taiwan and Keno and Konrad from Germany.
“Couples and families with and without children in the home are all encouraged to host,” said regional placement coordinator Nancy Rodriguez. “Each World Heritage student is fully insured, brings his/her own personal spending money and expects to contribute to his/her share of household responsibilities, as well as being included in normal family activities and lifestyles.”
I can vouch for all of that, because the Rotary program was similarly structured. I can also vouch for the rich experience of being a person unfamiliar with a country and its customs and foods navigating through all of it in the company of locals who are eager to open a kid’s eyes to the exchange experience. My advice is to do it.
To reach Rodriguez, call 805-310-2072, send an email to email@example.com or visit