A South American teenager in Whitefield, Maine


 Marcelo Sanchez Canale was already a sensitive and caring young man when he arrived. He came that way, from a family that stressed the importance of personal relations and appreciation of cultural differences. His first days were spend quietly in his room listening to cassettes of the music indigenous to his home in South America. This is the classic withdrawal behavior of someone who experiences 'total immersion' in a new culture.

It was only a very short time before we all were involved in the introduction to the ways of the Uruguayans. Their economy, their values, their history, their clothes - Marcelo insisted that we know all about his home.  He told about what it was like when he found that he was going to Maine - "where is that ?" . The research - the realization that it isn't New York or L.A. thinking what could it be like there in the cold rural north - miles from a big city ? 

It was about a month before school began, and Marcelo has already experienced a tablespoonful of peanut butter sticking to the roof of his mouth - compliments of Nannie, who assured him he'd love it - he didn't ! - A tenting trip in the White Mountains with an adventuresome youth group from the local Baptist Church where they experienced a near death experience with an imaginary bear and ended up trashing our tent in the process. 
Our family economic model was agrarian -
made possible by fund derived from teaching. We had cows, chickens, sheep, ducks, goats, cats and a wonderfully eccentric dog (Willey, the Old English Sheepdog). We gardened, hayed, fenced, herded, slaughtered, preserved, froze and canned to feed ourselves. We heated exclusively with wood- we cut, stacked and burned 6 cords of hardwood from our woods every year. 

Marcelo had come from a family of dentists and a home where domestic help was the norm. Dogs were considered unclean and not to be petted. 

It was through this alien world that Marcelo was introduced to the U.S. ! He didn't miss a step. 

Everyone in our family had their chores. I can still see Marcelo bundling up in a sweater under a heavy wool coat, hat and mittens prepared to trek to the cold dark barn to feed, water and muck-out the animals - all by himself on "his night for chores". Indeed, later in the year, he would be  proud to show his friends from school how he does his part to tend the animals - to be a part of our life.

Our son David was 17 and Lisa was 16 when Marcelo arrived. In retrospect, even though it was a family decision - as parents we now realize that it must have been difficult on our kids. But, they rose to the occasion and did their part to make this a rewarding experience.

The class of 1980 at Wiscasset High School was a close group ! Marcelo fit in well and had many friends.

He participated in the theater group. He talked to civic groups. Marcelo was quick to add his views to arguments in civics. He was a great addition to the high school. 

The school year went quickly. We took a family trip to Quebec and Marcelo visited other AFS families throughout the year to see more of our country.

When graduation came there were parties and a sorrow in the parting, knowing that it would be quite some time before we saw him again. 

In July, Marcelo left Whitefield and his classmates amid tears and farewells.

Somehow we all knew that we would all be better off for knowing this young man from South America. We would have a clearer understanding of how important international relations are to our culture and our country.

Adults and youngsters alike all missed Marcelo because he made such a positive impression on us. Today, nearly a quarter century later, the benefits of the AFS experience continues as we again make this journey to see Marcelo and his family !


Return