Outdoors

The parents heard around the world

Posted Jan. 13, 2011, at 6:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:20 p.m.

Charlie and Nancy Grant of Orono have four children, six grandchildren, and … let’s see … somewhere around 400 surrogate children.

Back in 1977, the Grants agreed to be a host family for a year to Shirly, a girl from Israel. That was the beginning of more than 33 years (and counting) of involvement with the international student exchange program called AFS.

The Grants have hosted eight full-year students from seven countries. In addition, they have stepped in as counselors and volunteered as a part-time family for dozens more.

It isn’t easy opening your home to a stranger from a different culture. There are clashes and misunderstandings. The struggles of hosting an international student, though, are not a lot different from the challenges inherent in raising any teen. In the Grant household, Nancy said with a laugh, their international kids were “just another pain-in-the-neck brother or sister,” and became a part of the family.

It is a rare student who has a lifelong dream of a year in central Maine. Since AFS students cannot choose their destination home, beginning their U.S. orientation in Bangor rather than New York or Los Angeles can engender disappointment. One of Nancy’s favorite success stories was an Austrian girl who was unhappy in her placement and wanted to leave Maine. She stayed with the Grants temporarily while they sorted out a solution. Nancy was tough — you stay in Maine or you go home, she told the girl.

Before she returned home in June, the Austrian girl thanked Nancy effusively: “I am SO happy you made me stay in Maine. It was the BEST thing you could have done!”

That, said Nancy, is the typical attitude at the end of the year.

“None of them ever wants to leave!”

The rewards of forging close relationships with international students are profound.

“Though the world’s people may be different in culture,” Charlie said, you learn that “the basic human needs are the same.” Host families learn and grow as much as their international “children.” Not only do they gain a new perspective and understanding of other cultures around the world, they also learn to see their own culture in a new light.

There are other benefits, as well. In 1983 the Grants and their three teen daughters spent two months visiting AFS kids in Europe. Most of them had lived for a time in the Grants’ home. The Grant family spent a week apiece with Jorge in Spain, Shirly in Israel, Michael in Norway and Anders in Sweden, who had lived with the Grants for only three days during his time in the states. Some connections are forged almost instantly.

When you stay in someone’s home, Nancy said regarding the trip, “you see things you would never see otherwise.”

Having provided that opportunity to so many in their own home, it was particularly rewarding for the Grants to see international exchange from the visitor’s point of view.

Charlie and Nancy have made two other international trips, and many AFS kids and their families have been back to Maine to stay with them.

“Jorge has a nephew here in Bangor this year!” Nancy told me. The Grants are the center of their own, growing worldwide web of connections.

They fervently praise the efforts of so many devoted AFS volunteers, but most AFS’ers will tell you that Charlie and Nancy have been the linchpins for our region’s AFS program for the last 20 years. Family recruitment, student placement, support and programming — their commitment and dedication are tireless in every area. There is not a local AFS student from the last two decades who does not know Charlie and Nancy. They are the parents heard round the world.

Host families are needed for the 2011-2012 school year. If you are interested in exploring this adventure, call Charlie and Nancy at 866-4542.

Robin Clifford Wood is happy to receive suggestions and feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com, or through her newest blog, The Sunrise Blogger, at http://thesunriseblogger.blogspot.com.

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