How To Bring The World To Your Living Room

By on June 11, 2019

Jerry, Robert, Wendy and Jake Parent flank their AFS exchange student, Josep Salse.

Thousands of international visitors stream through New York City every day. In Verona, not so much. But early this year, one Verona family discovered a way to bring the world into its living room, and they’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

Since February, the Parent family on Elk Road has been host to Josep Salse, a Spanish student in the United States with the educational exchange program AFS. They’ve been making dinner from a Spanish cookbook given to them by Salse’s parents, learning about holidays in Salse’s hometown near Barcelona like La Diada de Sant Jordi, understanding the differences between high school in Spain and the U.S. and, generally, having a blast being tourists in their own backyard. It’s been a priceless education in the world and Wendy Parent would like to encourage other Verona families to do the same.

“Whether you feed three boys or four boys or five boys, it doesn’t really matter,” she says with a shrug.

Before Salse arrived on their doorstep, the Parents had been feeding two boys, Jake, who graduated Verona High School with the class of 2017, and Robert, who graduates next week. Both had gone to Europe as middle-school students with People To People International, but the family had never hosted a foreign student until it got the bug at VHS’ International Weekend this year. For decades, VHS has welcomed exchange students from all over New Jersey during the first weekend in February.

Salse got to experience the prom at VHS …

… a Broadway show …

…and winning stuffed animals at the Point Pleasant boardwalk.

Salse is in the U.S. with AFS, a non-profit that has enabled American students to study abroad and foreign students to come here since 1947. Now, more than 2,300 AFS exchange students from 90 countries come to the U.S. every year. Host families house and feed the students placed with them but students come with their own spending money and medical insurance. AFS uses volunteers to match incoming students with host families based on the family’s interests and lifestyle, and while most AFS students stay with a family for the full 10-month school year, some split their time between two families.

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While Wendy Parent believes that her family has gotten a lot out of Salse’s stay, he clearly has enjoyed Verona. Classes here are a bit less rigorous than those back home, he says, and VHS offers music, sports, and art extracurriculars, which Salse has come to love. “In Spain, everything is science and math,” he says. In Spain, compulsory high school actually starts in what would be middle school here and runs only through age 16. After that, students can stay on for two more years of high school or go into vocational training.

Salse also loves Verona’s location, which has made it easy for him to take the bus into New York City and meet up with other AFS students. Like most foreign students, he’s accustomed to taking public transportation to go places, like from his home on a cattle ranch outside Barcelona into that city. “I was shocked by how much you need a car here,” Salse says. He’s experienced the prom, bagels, Taylor Ham and Reese’s Pieces and gives a thumbs-up to all. (Wendy Parent is proud of the fact that, living with her family, Salse has learned to do his own laundry as well.)

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Robert Parent has also learned from Salse, who he says will remain a friend even after his stay ends on June 24. “I know so much more about Spain,” he says. “I love hearing about its politics.” While he didn’t study abroad in high school, he intends to do so in college at Arcadia University, which has an extensive foreign study program.  Robert’s father also has plans for abroad. “We were going to take the boys to Barcelona,” Jerry Parent says nodding at his wife, “but if the boys can’t go, we’ll go alone.”

“There’s a lot to share between countries,” says Salse. “It’s easy to make bonds with other people if you show love and respect.” Adds Wendy Parent: “There’s a bigger world than New Jersey.”

You can learn more about becoming an AFS host family here.

Salse, center, with the AFS students that have been in New Jersey this year.

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