Archive by category "My International Kids"

My International Kids: Jade

 

 

My International Kids: Jade [1]

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

I was beginning to contemplate moving to California where two of my daughters already resided, and my first grandchild was on the way. A third daughter was heading for California as well, and my fourth daughter was now living on the West Coast of Canada. It was lonely living by myself in Toronto when I was used to bustling activity, company for meals, and youthful enthusiasm all around me. So, even though I might be leaving for the U.S. soon, I agreed to host another international student. Jade was my first student visitor from mainland China.

A rather plain and initially awkward girl from a rural area, teenage Jade was surprisingly astute when it came to financial matters. She had a business mind like a steel trap. Her father ran a shoe factory in China, and he had sent her to study English, so that she could help him do business with Western countries. She was thrilled to be in Canada, so excited at the prospect of learning, and honored to have the responsibility with which her father had entrusted her at an early age.

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When I looked at the clumpy, unattractive shoes Jade wore, I realized that she indeed had a lot to learn if her father’s factory was to please Western tastes. But Jade was a fast learner, a veritable sponge! With her inquisitive mind, she absorbed and analyzed everything she saw around her. Unlike the other Asian girls from Taiwan and Japan whom I had previously hosted, however, Jade was lacking in charm and polish, and she was smart enough to realize it. She extended her course of study for another few months – to absorb charm and polish, of course!

While I am enjoying life in California now with my own children and grandchildren close by, I often wonder how my international kids, my “adopted” Toronto family, fared when they returned to their own homes in other lands. Are Llazlo and Olga, the inseparable Yugoslav couple for whom no room was too small, who would gladly share a single bed to remain together, still a team?

And dear Lily from Taiwan? My guess is that, after traversing the world for a while, she would opt to marry the well-heeled, classy suitor her parents favored, one who could give her a spacious apartment in Hong Kong. I suspect that she will not send her children away to boarding school, as her parents did with her. She will be at home with them when they are young.

Mariko from Japan knew that she was too “Western” for most Japanese men’s tastes, so I imagine that she soon became the principal of the Japanese school where she taught first-level English to foreigners and eventually married the Japanese suitor educated in the United States — who, on her behalf, hand-delivered a Japanese-style rice-maker, made in New Jersey, to me in Toronto.

I hope that Danilo married his Brazilian sweetheart, and that while they were raising their family in relative luxury in Brazil, they also did something to alleviate the poverty in which so many families live in that country. Years later, I heard from him via Facebook that he had achieved his dream of working in the airline industry.

Khaled had already decided to avoid paying the heavy “bride price” demanded for a Bedouin bride in Saudi Arabia by marrying the Chinese student he fell in love with in Toronto. Also, because the Bedouins, from whom he originated, tend to marry their cousins, he hoped to circumvent the genetic sickle cell disease that plagued his own family by marrying “out.”

As for entrepreneurial, sharp-as-a-tack Jade, I would hazard a guess that she quickly became a sophisticated, prime footwear entrepreneur. She likely put marriage and family on the back burner, delaying having children until her career goals were met.

Lots of naches from my international kids!

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Toronto, 2008; Los Angeles 2017. All rights reserved.

 

[1] Adapted from Corinne Copnick, Cryo Kid: Drawing A New Map. (New York: iUniverse, 2008). Finalist 2009 Next Generation Awards of Excellence.

My International Kids:  Danilo, Olga, and Llazlo

My International Kids:  Danilo, Olga, and Llazlo [1]

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Danilo was the next student who came to live at my house. I was hosting International students in Toronto while waiting for my U.S. documents so that I could join my children in California. Tall and handsome, with hazel eyes that belonged on a film screen, he was my first Brazilian student, my first male guest, and a breath of fresh air every time I came home after visiting my mother. We got along so famously, it was like having an eighteen-year-old son live with me. (They’re so happy when you feed them well!) He wouldn’t let me lift a finger to do anything that he could physically help me with.

He explained to me that the degree of poverty experienced in Brazil is almost unimaginable for a Canadian. It is nearly impossible for poor people to have any upward mobility. If you are born poor, you die poor, he said. Even though I did not consider myself to be a rich person, Danilo would point to my dishwasher, or to my washing machine and dryer, or the décor in my living room and pronounce gravely, “You are a favored person” in the English he was rapidly learning.

* * * *

Photo credit: http://www.legacytrunks.com/images/flat%20top%20trunk%20history%204.jpg

The next student to enter my home came through the door with the largest suitcase I had ever seen – almost the size of an old-fashioned steamer trunk – and behind him slipped a second someone who appeared so furtively that, for a moment, she appeared to be a shadow.

“I am expecting one student,” I said. “Not two.” It was two in the morning. I had expected my Yugoslavian student to arrive well before midnight, and I was already in my nightgown and bathrobe.

“No,” the shadow cried dramatically, her feet firmly planted in my hallway. “We cannot be separated.”

“You are from [the former] Yugoslavia?” I inquired. “Students at the language school?”

The male student nodded vigorously, as his female companion in the hallway answered rapidly in understandable, heavily accented English.

“Yes, and we have been assigned to different home. No! No! We must remain together.”

“Why did the school place you in different home?” I asked, trying to assess the situation. The school’s rules did not require that hosts keep students assigned to them if they did not find the students suitable to their home environment.

“We are not married,” she told me. “They say that we can only stay together in the same house if we are married. But we live together in Yugoslavia. We are like one!”

“I see,” I replied. I knew that many of the host families had young children, and the language school had set the rule in order to prevent embarrassment to the families.

“It’s very late,” I continued. “I can’t contact the school now. I do not have any young children, and I have no objection to you sharing a room since you have apparently been living together for some time, but I have only one room to offer you. It does have a double bed.”

I thought for a moment about my former students — Lily from Hong Kong and Mariko from Japan — and their different space perceptions compared to their home environments. Lily thought the guest room in my house was small, and Mariko thought it was very big. Danilo from Brazil thought I was rich. Khaled from Saudi Arabia prepared rice sitting on the floor of my kitchen.

“I think the room is big enough,” I told the Yugoslavian students, “but you might find it too small for two people.

“Oh, thank you, thank you,” the girl replied, tears filling her eyes. “it does not matter if it is a single bed. The room will be big enough.”

When I opened the door to what would be their bedroom for the next two months, they gasped with happiness.

“It is wonderful. Thank you, thank you.”

“We’ll talk at breakfast,” I said, summoning up a pleasant smile. I could hardly keep my eyes open. “Welcome to Canada.”

After a myriad of “thank yous” later that morning, they began the task of hauling the new suitcase up the stairs to their new room, where they somehow stashed it in the clothes closet. Olga and Llazo were a team not only in regard to hauling a suitcase, but when it came to language skills as well. They were a totally complementary couple. She could speak English but not read or write it (Cyrillic script is very different from the English alphabet), and he could read English but not write it. Their intention was to equalize the situation at the language school. She hoped to learn to read and write, and he wanted to learn to speak English. Meanwhile, together they could communicate in a strange land.

During the few weeks they were with me in the last year of the 1990s, gradually they told me a lot about their life in their home country. They marveled at the variety and plenitude of food that stocked the shelves of Toronto’s supermarkets. “We earn salaries,” Olga said sadly, “but we can’t buy anything with them. The shelves are empty in my country.” In comparison to the other students I had hosted, their concerns were so serious, so concentrated on basic needs.

At my anything but empty table, they greedily filled themselves with food. Olga was a tiny brunette, but it was amazing how much food she could hold. And Llazlo was a big boy, a professional hockey player in his home town, who was always hungry. They ate everything at every meal. It was as if they wanted to make sure they were full in case another meal was not forthcoming.

One day, as Olga grew closer to me, she showed me the contents of their still bulging suitcase. It contained mostly food. “Look,” she gestured grandly, “dried soups, smoked sausages, sardines, crackers, enough for a long time.” They had stocked themselves up for a disaster.

When their language classes concluded, a relative of one of them – an aunt — drove up to our door. By pre-arrangement, she carried with her official documents allowing Olga and Llazlo to visit her in New York State. Down the stairs came the suitcase, and somehow they stowed it into the trunk of her car. As they said their goodbyes, accompanied by hugs, kisses, and heartfelt thanks, I wondered if they would ever return to their home country.

 

[1] ©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved. Adapted from Corinne Heather Copnick, Cryo Kid: Drawing a New Map, Los Angeles, (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2008). Finalist, Next Gen Awards of Excellence, 2009. Available from Amazon.com.

 

My International Kids: Lily and Mariko

 

My International Kids: Lily and Mariko [1]

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

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Hosting international students during the time my mother – who had lived with me for the last ten years — was cared for at a nursing home filled my own home with life, with young people who had dreams for the future. On occasion, some of the students visited the nursing home with me; they offered smiling faces and gentle words to my blind mother.

There was Lily (not her real name), a spunky, “poor little rich girl” from Taiwan who had spent most of her growing up years in boarding schools, and the best thing about her stay in Canada, she announced, was me. “I brought myself up,” she would say.

But her eyes sparkled. She was filled with curiosity about life in North America and wanted to see and know everything. The students all shared comments about their respective hosts, and Lily’s reports about me were so glowing that several of her fellow Taiwanese students made their house my meeting place on many evenings. The language school encouraged its host “families” to act like parents, even held meetings where we could get to know one another and share helpful observations, and so here I was – a surrogate Mom, whose own children were, at that point, living in other cities, making their way in the world. When one of my own daughters visited while Lily was living with me, she was surprised to hear Lily (and sometimes Lily’s friends) calling me “Mom.”

My daughter was also amazed that her new Taiwanese “siblings” always asked for “North American food.” Hot dogs and hamburgers were their preference, so they were very easy to please in the epicurean department. Most of them had lived their young lives in luxurious circumstances, catered to by housekeepers and maids, and had never learned to cook for themselves. They delighted in helping me clear the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Sometimes I helped them with their homework.

When they arrived in Toronto, all the Taiwanese girls spoke a precise, formal English, fluent in varying degrees, but they were anxious to talk like “native speakers.” I was really upset that their elite language school was teaching them “American-style” English, so that they would “fit in”: to say (and write!) things like “gonna” and “wanna” and “coulda” and “ya” instead of “going to,” “want to,” “could have,” and “you.”

Lily was fascinated by the new idioms she was absorbing on a daily basis. One evening she graphically demonstrated her latest idiomatic acquisition to me. Opening her mouth wide, she repeatedly moved her fingers back and forth inside this moist cavity, as if she were vomiting.

“Do you know what that means?” she cried excitedly.

“Tell me,” I said faintly.

“It sucks!” she pronounced proudly.

“They’re ruining your English,” I wailed.

She was not as impressed by the rooms of my home, though, as she was by her acquisition of English idioms. Although Lily was amazed at the spacious lawns that surrounded many of the homes in my Toronto neighborhood – in Taiwan, such exterior space is limited – she considered her bedroom at my home “small” in comparison to the spacious room she enjoyed in her parents’ grand apartment in Taiwan.

The holiday greeting card she sent to me when she returned home bore a triumphant “Joy!” on its cover. Inside was this message in carefully inscribed block letters:

 

“WISH YOU ALL THE BEST ON THE SPECIAL SEASON! SINCE WE MET ON LAST SUMMER, YOU’VE BEEN AN IMPORTANT PERSON IN MY LIFE. TO ME, YOU’RE A THOUGHTFUL MOMMY, A LOVELY FRIEND, A WISEFUL TEACHER. YOU’RE EVERYTHING!!! PLEASE REMEMBER ME, THE GIRL WHO ADMIRE YOU SO MUCH.

LILY.”

I still cry every time I come across her message. Dear Lily, I wish I could have given you a bigger room.

I learned, however, that perception of space is culturally conditioned when Mariko (not her real name) followed Lily as the next student I hosted. She found the room that Lily had occupied huge. Mariko was from a middle class family in Japan, where interior space is compact. In fact, she had never before called a room her own. At night, her family unrolled their tatamis, spread them on the floor, and slept in the same multi-purpose room together. In the morning, they simply rolled them up again. At home, she kept her few belongings in a small chest. At my home, she had a big closet with not much in it.

Unlike Lily, Mariko was an amazing chef and could slice cucumbers, tomatoes, and a variety of vegetables paper thin or into beautiful shapes with an alarmingly big knife in the blink of an eye. She took pride in creating some of the most beautifully crafted salads I have ever seen. But she purchased ready-made, packaged Miso soup at the supermarket. After she returned to Japan, a friend of her family hand-delivered a handsome, electric rice maker as a gift to me and bowed his many thanks on her behalf. And once she was back home, Mariko got a job (ready or not!) teaching first-level English at a Japanese language school.

 

 

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved. Adapted from Corinne Heather Copnick, Cryokid: Drawing a New Map. (New York: iUniverse, 2008). Finalist in Next Gen Awards of Excellence, 2009. Available on Amazon.com.

 

* * * *

My International Kids: Khaled

My International Kids: Khaled [1]

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Photo credit: http://www.creativestyle.com.au/interior-design-sydney/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/dreamstime_xxl_39161901.jpg

n Toronto, in the absence of my children when they headed for the American Southwest, I “adopted” a surrogate family. For two years, I consecutively hosted what I called “my international kids,” a “family” of students from a variety of countries. They arrived with student visas that had been arranged in their countries of origin. I gave them my hospitality, my love, and my guidance in a strange land. From each of them I learned more than they learned from me.

My last student was called Khaled [not his real name] – and I would love him most of all. Like my own son. Khaled was from Saudi Arabia, and I was Canadian. He was Muslim, and I was Jewish. Like the other students I had hosted from many lands, he had come to Canada on a student visa to study at a private school catering to international students who wanted to learn English.

“You are so good with the students,” the coordinator cajoled. “If you are not happy, just call us, and we’ll place him elsewhere.”

Only Khaled didn’t know that he was coming to a Jewish home when he arrived at my home, fresh off the plane and obviously agitated because his luggage had apparently been lost and would be delivered to him later by immigration authorities. Every few minutes he kept stepping out of my home to nervously puff on a cigarette – the school had advised him that he could not smoke on my indoor premises.

He was bareheaded (later he wore a baseball cap) at the time and wearing a business suit, white shirt, and tie that were his usual garb during his more formal, first days in Canada. Sweat was glistening on his dark-skinned face, and his eyes darted nervously around, hesitant to look at me directly. His small mustache quivered above his compressed lips. He was twenty-six years old.

I didn’t know then that I was the first unveiled woman, apart from his mother and sisters, with whom he had ever been alone. Or that he had never before met a Jew.

I had struggled with my own doubts about accepting him as a resident in my home when the school had almost begged me to take him in. “We have such trouble in placing Saudis,” the harried housing coordinator explained. “Most of the Saudi students who come to us are from very wealthy families and tend to be somewhat arrogant. They treat the people who house them like servants.” She told me about one Saudi prince who was furious when the father of the hosting family asked him to limit his time on the only computer in the house. “The prince stamped out angrily,” she confided, “and came back a little later with is own newly purchased lap top.”

Khaled was not a prince. He had not travelled internationally. The only places he had ever visited outside of Saudi Arabia, and then only briefly with his father, a music teacher, were the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He came, he said, from a “middle class” family of Bedouin heritage (cousins seek to marry cousins, and males must pay a bride price)in Saudi Arabia. The combined family income, with each of his eight brothers (several of whom had some degree of sickle cell disease) contributing, came to about $25,000 weekly.

When he sat down on my white-tiled kitchen floor to mix the rice for the meal he had offered to cook for me, it brought home to me the enormous chasm that separated our cultures – Khaled who called me “Mummy.” The worst day in his own mother’s life, she told her sons, was the one she was too sick to make her husband lunch and forgot to phone him not to come home for it.

“He loved her so much,” Khaled said with pride, “that he didn’t beat her.”

* * * *

Soon after I had transplanted myself to California – living now en famille with my daughter and infant grandchild – I received a concerned e-mail message from Khaled. It was 2001, and the 9/11 disaster was filling the world’s media screens.

“How are you, Mummy? Are you okay? How is your family?”

I noted that the return address on the e-mail was blank but replied immediately. “Yes, we are all okay in Los Angeles. Where are you, Khaled?”

“I am still in Toronto, Mum,” he answered. “I am trying to finish my studies.”

“I am glad that we had a chance to get to know and love one another in Toronto,” I responded calmly. “Let us hope for peace in the world, despite this madness.”

The last e-mail I would receive from him read, “They are crazy, Mummy. They kill everything, even peace.”

 

[1] ©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved. Adapted from Corinne Heather Copnick, Cryo Kid: Drawing a New Map, Los Angeles, (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2008). Finalist, Next Gen Awards of Excellence, 2009. Available from Amazon.com.