Visit brings to life a time well spent

Posted 4/6/23

At one time or another we’ve all wished it was possible to turn back the clock.  But it’s just that, wishful thinking.

Yet it happened this week with the visit of Elena Muyo and …

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Visit brings to life a time well spent


At one time or another we’ve all wished it was possible to turn back the clock.  But it’s just that, wishful thinking.

Yet it happened this week with the visit of Elena Muyo and her husband Juan and their three children. Elena came to us as a teenager from Valladolid, Spain in 1990 after her brother stayed with us for several weeks in a Rotary Club exchange. Our son, Ted, went there for about the same time.

Elena’s yearlong stay wasn’t part of the Rotary program or an official exchange. She initiated it. With the desire to see this country and a goal of learning English, she asked if she could live with us and attend high school. The timing was good. Ted, our youngest was a college freshman and his older brother and sister had left home. We were empty nesters for at least part of the year.

A high school junior, Elena attended Pilgrim where she was one of eight foreign exchange students. I realized Monday, student exchanges have dwindled. Today, there is only one Pilgrim exchange student and Warwick Rotary has not hosted an exchange student for years.  Contrary to what you might think, the ability to connect with people around the world through social media, not to mention stay abreast of the news and do research sitting at your home computer appears to have robbed us of that drive to build face-to-face relationships with people from foreign countries. It surely seems to have divided, rather than united, us. 

As the years went by, we stayed in touch with Elena. Carol and I visited her family in Spain soon after she completed her stay here. I flew to Spain for her wedding.  Her husband, Juan, was also a Rotary exchange student, although they did not meet through the program.  He was sponsored by a New Hampshire club.  That was years ago and our contact was largely limited to Christmas cards and emails relating important family events including the arrival of Elena and Juan’s son, Juan Jr., and his battle with childhood leukemia. Elena and Juan’s jobs with JP Morgan took them to London where they live today. Elena now works for a relatively new foundation that funds individuals and organizations conducting ground breaking cancer research.

While turning back the clock is out of the question, that’s exactly what seemed to be happening when she told me that she and the kids would join Juan on a business trip to New York, and they were hoping to visit us and then Juan’s host family in New Hampshire. It would be a visit of a couple of days. They were both hopeful of introducing their three children to the families who had hosted them and the places they came to know during their high school year in this country.

Elena wanted to show Juan and her children the house and her room, Pilgrim, Warwick and even the bay where she crewed on weekend sailing races.

The house was easy. It didn’t take much to turn back that clock. Little has changed. We didn’t get to the boat or out on the bay and Pilgrim hadn’t changed except for the lockers and the gym floor that she picked up on immediately.  Elena played basketball. 

A call to assistant superintendent Bill McCaffrey facilitated the Pilgrim visit. Phil Silva from guidance was our tour guide and in moments the two established common teacher and student acquaintances. Maybe this was going to be easier than I imagined.

It took off.

Phil led us to the office of Karen Mather, who as a student spent a semester in Spain. They conversed switching between English and Spanish.  Teachers coming and going stopped and took an interest in the family and hearing Elena’s remembrances.  We were ushered into a Spanish class where Elena first talked about her experience in Spanish and then, for the rest of us, repeated it in English. I watched the faces of students looking to pick out those who during their educational careers might be interested in an exchange program. There were prospects who offered hope there are those who want to push boundaries beyond Rhode Island and this country.

But I needn’t have looked too far. Juan Jr., 14, was asking about the transferability of credits between schools. He was excited by the opportunities. I believe he wants to come back.

Academics are surely a part of an exchange, but a small part. That couldn’t have been clearer than when Karen led us to the room of teacher Nisa SanGiovanni.

“Oh, my God,” Nisa said, tears welling, as she hugged Elena.  Like Carol and I, Nisa and Elena exchange the rare email. Nisa had no idea of her visit. They stood back and looked at one another.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming,” Nisa demanded.

For an instant time flew backward. Nisa was the teacher and Elena was the student.

And for us the visit was a wonderful flashback and affirmation of time well spent.

side, up, editorial


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