From my Heart

As a child, I was fascinated with people not from Minnesota. World travel was not commonplace where I grew up and classmates from other countries were non existent until my high school years. It was exciting to meet my great uncle Larry who spoke Spanish as his native language and to hear his stories of childhood in Spain. He inspired me to learn Spanish at the age of 9. It was memorable to go to what was one of the first Mexican restaurants in Minnesota, “La Casa Coronado” and to enjoy my first tamales.

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These events sound commonplace, but there was a time in Minnesota when areas were more isolated due to less highways and little immigration. It was considered “ideal” to blend in and even dress alike. How exciting it was when our town had an influx of refugees from Vietnam during  my high school years!  Before then, our only Asian neighbors were restaurant owners from China.

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I remember sitting in the gym when a beautiful girl named Anh entered, carrying her tennis shoes and looking frightened. My heart melted seeing her fear and I greeted her. As I tried to explain  that she should wear her shoes, she politely nodded and said “thank you.”  This was a defining moment in my life, as I realized  my world was very small and needed expansion.

Fast forward to grade 12 where we had 2 exchange students: Elena from El Salvador and Erik from Belgium.  My new friends were the best education I received in my senior year! You see, at this point in time, the  only kids I had met not born in the USA were from Vietnam or Mexico.

From Elena I learned of poverty, political unrest, the importance of family, grace, dignity and gratitude.  She bore an incredible amount of  grace in meeting our stares of curiosity with her bright, wide smile. Elena was quick to educate us on her customs and we learned from her generous example to be more thankful and humble. We were pen pals after graduation for about five years. Occasionally I wonder if political unrest caused her letters to cease.

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I could write volumes about Erik!  We became very close and he called me his little sister.  For over 10 years, Erik and I corresponded.   Erik had an interesting perspective on Americans. From the television and movies, he thought our country was crawling with what he called “hippies.” In the spring, he went to a rock concert with me and he excitedly pointed out “hippies.”   Another endearing quality of Erik’s was he would correct our grammar! On the day of graduation, we embraced and cried.

Erik visited the USA 9 years later on business. It was not the meeting I would have preferred. About a dozen classmates met at a restaurant. At the time, my former husband accompanied us and his domineering, entertaining personality took over our time together. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to see my Belgium brother again!

We all have varying belief systems. My  belief system says things happen for a reason. Through career changes and life events, I found myself working in the same school district that educated me. What a blessing to end up educating international students in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program! The students taught me more than I could ever teach!

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My blessing of working with ESL students came to an end due to budget cuts. After a stint working with a wonderful company that did not align with my life purpose, I ended up with Council for Educational Travel USA!  We place and supervise international exchange students. It truly feels like life has become full circle!

With the advent of social media we are able to communicate more around the world. However, that does not replace the experience of spending time with others firsthand.  It is priceless witnessing “firsts” with our students:  the “Welcome to the USA” signs at the airport, the wonder of snowfall, homecoming, American food, Mall of America, Halloween and more!

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I think we may all agree that we are greatly influenced by images on media and may assume things that may or may not be true. For example, not all Minnesotans act like the characters in ‘Fargo.” Another example is not all Muslim women wear Hijab. By spending time with those brought up in other lands, we receive a valuable education not found elsewhere. That education can create a ripple and that ripple may extend around the world.

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I invite you to join me on CETUSA’s mission of: Reaching out to encourage a lifelong journey of global peace and understanding. You may do this as a host family or as a local coordinator, which is a rewarding part time endeavor!

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Honoring Fred Rogers

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?Mister Rogers In Studio

That simple sentence of “Won’t you be my neighbor?” conjures up the simple song whenever we hear it.  Some of us may be too young or old to have watched “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” as children, but  those of us in the USA know of him.  Currently, the documentary based upon his life is showing in multiple theaters to rave reviews. Many people have told me it brought tears to their eyes.  I know I did not see a dry eye in the house as I left the theater. No explanation for the tears will be given here, as  everyone should experience a movie without a spoiler.

What could have Mr. Rogers meant by “neighbor?”

Dictionary definitions all concur that a neighbor is someone who lives close by. With this vast universe, how could we all live by Mr. Rogers?  The Bible says to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Thus, it is safe to assume Mr. Rogers was implying love towards all as we love ourselves.  That’s a heavy concept! For the purpose of analogy, my writing is geared toward those with self love.

Mr. Roger’s Legacy

We already know Fred Rogers promoted tolerance, self esteem and kindness as his legacy. What I did not catch before was that many of his shows were tied in to current events.  Without delving directly into those shows, I think of today’s current climate.  We are technology driven, which is a great thing, but turns ugly when misused. There are the “keyboard warriors” that feel free to say hurtful things they would not voice in person, political sniping,  news media showing the worst of others, people staring at their phones in lieu of conversation, and more.

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Then, there is the wonderful side of technology:  more access to education, formation of friendships,  calls for help being answered, knowledge of the plight of others, promotion of small business…the list goes on.  Mr. Rogers used the technology of television to promote what is good in the world.  What a trailblazer!

 

How can we continue the legacy of Fred Rogers?

Fred Rogers did not have just a “children’s show.”  His shows send us all a message of tolerance, helpfulness, and world peace. This begins with his message of self esteem. Once we have good self esteem, we are able to help others in many ways.  Most of us do help others day to day by offering empathy, smiles and service. That caring touches lives and sends a ripple of goodwill throughout our communities.

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How may we send that ripple across the ocean?  Think of how peaceful the world could be if we simply understood each other!  There are many ways to gain understanding and peace:  mission trips, cultural exchange, podcasts, You Tube, books, initiating conversation with those we perceive to be “different,” visiting cultural fairs, etc.

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Living the Legacy

I challenge myself and each and every one of us to live the legacy of Fred Rogers! Many mission trips are funded by donations through churches or incentives, such as Evolv Health’s Impact trips. You could host a foreign exchange student through CETUSA, whose mission is  reaching out to encourage a lifelong journey of global peace and understanding.”  Here is an educational podcast from a woman living a multicultural life: Petronella..  Ted Talks are informative, inspiring videos on many topics.  Here are the 5 top Ted Talks on Diversity/mulitculturalism:  Ted Talks. Plus, there are a slew of books on Amazon or your local library on a multitude of cultures.

 

By understanding those that appear to be “different” from us, we learn of our similarities, gain new friendships, and in the case of foreign exchange, a new family member.  It starts with the person in the mirror.  As Gandhi said ” be the change you want to see in the world.”

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for more information on student exchange, please visit http://www.cetusa.org or send me a message at:  julie.froberg@cetusa.org