When Jorge Vicente first heard his study-abroad placement would be in Vancouver in August, he was sure there was a mistake. At the time, he had only heard the Vancouver in Canada.
A few days before flying back home to Salamanca, Spain, Vicente said there was a lot he was going to miss about America’s Vancouver.
“I thought that it was hard when I left from Spain, but that’s nothing compared to this,” Vicente said. He always knew he would go back to Spain and see everyone again. There are people in Vancouver he may never see again.
Vicente, 17, lived in Salmon Creek and spent his junior year at Skyview High School through the American Scandinavian Student Exchange program.
As part of the exchange program, he was told about life in American high school, but he was still unprepared for and overwhelmed by the experience.
“I remember my first day of school was, I was sad. I can’t hold on, I almost cried,” he said. “The worst part: the British English I have learned in my class has nothing to do with an American high school. All the slang, all the teenagers screaming and yelling at each other.”
Vicente’s oldest host sister, Katelyn Sickles, said one word he was particularly confused by was “yeet” — a pop-culture reference that can be used in many ways, often to mean WHAT — that to him sounded like shouting in the halls.
“He didn’t know any of that,” Katelyn Sickles said. “We caught him up.”
Since then, Vicente traveled to California with his host family, went with some other exchange students to Hawaii, joined the Skyview robotics team and made new friends.
In Spain, Vicente lives with his mom, Marife Nieto, and dad, Alberto Vicente. His sister, Irene Vicente, is 22 and was already away at her last year of college when Vicente left. The family home is an apartment near town.
Vicente described his hometown as small, with fewer than 20,000 people.
“My school is, like, five minutes walking,” he said. “When I hang out with my friends, walking 10 minutes. We have buses. We have a lot of public transportation. So it’s totally different here having to depend on my poor host dad driving me everywhere.”
His host family was much larger than his own family. Brandy and Scott Sickles, their three children, Katelyn Sickles, 21, Austin Sickles, 19, Kylie Sickles, 17 and Brandy’s mom, a long-term visitor from California, Mary St. Pierre, all welcomed Vicente into their home.
Vicente said there was really no time to feel homesick with such a huge family, but then he thought about when he first arrived.
“Maybe the first month there are some hardest moments, where you don’t feel quite at home yet,” he said. “It’s a pretty weird feeling.”
A perfect fit
Despite the difficulties getting used to his school, Vicente said that he felt lucky to have ended up in Vancouver. He said a lot of his friends ended up on farms. That’s not something that he would have been excited about, he said.
The Sickles family agreed that Vicente’s placement was a perfect fit. Once the family settled into a groove, host mom Brandy Sickles said that the kids acted just like siblings. While sitting in the front room, it’s easy to see that the group has bonded. All of the kids sat comfortably, piled on the couches and joking with each other as everyone talked. The family mentioned how Vicente and Kylie, who speaks Spanish, could be heard across the house loudly conversing in Spanish.
When applying, Vicente said he knew that he would stand out because he is not into sports.
“I was really afraid because of that,” he said. “Like no, there is no one who is going to host me just because I’m not like a sports person.” It turned out that was exactly what the Sickles family was looking for. Scott Sickles is a retired engineer, and no one in the family is into sports.
“That’s why we chose him,” Brandy Sickles said. “We didn’t want a big sports fanatic.”
The is one point of contention between Vicente and his host family, however.
“He’s an Apple fan, and we’re a Samsung family,” Katelyn Sickles said.
Host family ties
Vicente arrived a few days before school, and the family used that time to show him around the Pacific Northwest. The very first trip was to Mount St. Helens, followed by Multnomah Falls and the Bridge of the Gods.
Later, the family took a road trip to California. Brandy Sickles said that the family had not planned on going to California.
“We went there because that was his dream,” she said. “And that was something he wanted. And so we made those sacrifices.” She said it just made sense, because Vicente had already traveled all the way from Spain; it was just a little farther to California.
Brandy Sickles said she and her husband Scott decided to be a host family because they wanted to find a way to share their home.
“We’ve always felt like we’ve always had so much to share,” she said. Vicente has already invited the family to visit, and Brandy Sickles said that she is excited to meet his parents. She spoke to Vicente about the future. “When you get married, I’d better be invited,” she said.
Before he left, his host mom filled his extra suitcase full of his favorite American foods — Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and chicken and biscuit crackers — for his trip back home to Spain.
Scott and Brandy Sickles said that as far as they know, they probably won’t host again. “We had such a good experience that I don’t want to ruin it,” Brandy Sickles said. The Sickles were only surprised by one thing during this experience.
“We became more attached than we wanted to be,” she said. “He really fit into our family. We had a good experience, and he really integrated well into our family. I mean, everyday life, everything … we didn’t expect to like him as much as we do.”
Family offers advice for hosting exchange students
Brandy and Scott Sickles had some advice for anyone who might consider being a host.
“It definitely is worth forging that bond. And more people should do it. I know that they sometimes have a hard time finding host families,” Brandy Sickles said. “I definitely recommend it for other people, as long as they do their homework, and they realize they want to make the commitment.”
The agency supplies host families with information on potential students, and she encourages families to go through this information with a fine-tooth comb. She said picking someone that fits with the household is important.
“You don’t want to make them feel awkward or make your family have to completely change,” she said
The Sickles also understood that not all exchange students are in the same circumstance. Not all students will receive credit at home for the school work they do here in the states. Vicente and the Stickles agreed sometimes this means the student might not take school seriously. That is something that Brandy Sickles said wouldn’t have worked in their house.
The next time the Sickles get involved with the program, they said, they will be a backup host family. A host family ran into health problems this year, and the student had to move. Being a backup host family is a way they can add stability for future students.
The message that they stressed the most: “Don’t host if you’re really not serious about integrating somebody into your family. This isn’t an, ‘Oh, I get a badge for being a good person for doing this.’ This is bring them to your home, make them part of you. Make them part of your life forever.”
More information about being a host family or exchange student through the American Scandinavian Student Exchange can be found at asse.com.
— Jeni Banceu