Teenager Matt Shelby was excited when his parents became hosts for a foreign exchange student. An only child, he welcomed the chance to experience having a brother. Before Julio’s feet touched American soil, Matt had a lengthy list of fun stuff to do together, although school and homework would take a great deal of their time (especially with the extra challenge of helping the newcomer with his English.) Matt was a patient tutor and figured he might be able to pick up a second language in the process.
As it turned out, Julio spoke perfect English—grammatically. But the jargon and idioms that complicated the English language made for a lot of funny mix-ups from literal meanings competing with what was actually meant.
Occasionally, certain comments from Julio left Matt floundering like a fish out of water.
One day, Matt’s mother needed their spare car for an appointment, so the boys had to walk four blocks to the high school.
“We’re going to have blisters by the time we get home,” Matt grumbled.
“This is no problem, Matthew. In my country, we walk five miles to school, and we have no sidewalks.”
“Oh, I, uh, this is okay, then,” Matt feeling chastised somehow.
It was loads of fun hanging out together, and they had a few laughs at some of their culture’s differences. Julio wasn’t satisfied unless he pulled all “A’s”.
“I figure as long as I don’t go below a “C-“, I can still get into college,” Matt explaining away his lack of motivation.
“In my country, this is not acceptable, Matthew. We must excel in everything. It is our responsibility to get the best job to help support our families.”
“Oh, I, uh, that’s good, then, I guess,” Matt’s ego deflating like a stuck balloon.
Weekends were usually, but not always, filled with fun and games.
“Sorry about waking you, man. My dad says I have to clean out the garage. It’s gonna take up the whole Saturday and we’ll have to miss the game!”
“In my country, I work the fields with my parents on the weekends from sunup to sundown, so this is no problem for me, Matthew.”
“Really? Uh, well this doesn’t seem so bad, I guess.”
Matthew had a knack for resenting homework and, like a wet blanket, Julio had a knack of spoiling his bellyaching.
“Can you believe how many pages Winters gave us to read? Does he think we don’t have anything else to do?”
In my country, teachers give us at least twice as much homework; you are right, though, it is very difficult to fit it all in. Sometimes I read on the way to and from school as I walk. There is not much time after school and chores, so I stay up longer.”
“Oh, that sounds tough.”
A week later, Matt’s mother asked him to stop at the grocery store on the way home from school.
“Wow—look at all these long check-out lines! No way am I waiting that long.”
“In my country, these would be short lines. I can stay here for you, Matthew. It is no problem.”
“Uh, no, that’s okay. I guess it won’t hurt to stand here a while.”
And, on the following day,
“Mom, do we HAVE to go to church today? I’m too tired.”
“Oh, Matthew, would you mind if I go? In my country, we only get to worship with other Christians when the missionary bus is working.”
“Really? I guess I’m not all that tired.”
A month before Julio was to return home,
“Come on, Julio! My dad gave us each $25 to go out to eat and catch a movie!”
Matt’s appetite was known to be as big as his state of Texas, so it was no surprise that he barely had enough money left over from supper to cover his movie ticket (and popcorn, soda, and candy bars).
“You didn’t eat much, Julio. Don’t you feel good?”
“I am fine, Matthew. The rest of the money your father gave me—it is mine to do with whatever I wish?”
“Of course, man! Got a hot date for tomorrow night?”
“You make funny jokes, Matthew. No, I will send the rest to my family. In my country, it would feed us for a week!”
It seemed that Matthew was getting an education of another kind the longer Julio was around.
As Julio departed months later, Matt assured him,
"In my country you are always welcome.”
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