Friday, March 29, 2002
This year's town budget crisis may become a wedge dividing two segments of the community against each other: those with children in public school and those without. Many families with children in lower grades have moved to town within the last five years. They may know few people in town, aside from other parents they've met through toddler playgroups or school functions. This lack of a personal connection makes it harder for people to fully understand and sympathize with those who have very different economic realities. For residents living on a fixed income, continuously rising taxes (and health-care costs) are very scary. For others, having their child's education threatened with cuts is also scary.
We need to prevent the budget problems from damaging our sense of community. Short term, we need to stay civil during the difficult budget discussions ahead. Long term, we can strengthen our community in several ways: by volunteering to take a turn serving in town government and charitable organizations, and by taking part in town-wide events.
Town government is run with the help of a large number of volunteers. The board of selectmen, planning board, board of health, board of appeals, conservation and recreation commissions, and the school, finance, and other committees are made up of residents who donate many hours of their free time to the town each year. The town is always in need of more people to volunteer.
For those who lack enthusiasm for regulatory meetings, there are many other volunteer opportunities, such as clearing trails with the trails committee, helping seniors with the council on aging, tutoring kids at the school, or helping at the annual Pig 'n Pepper school fundraiser in October. And don't forget the Mosquito Trash Party, the annual town spruce-up, held this year on April 6.
Carlisle has many town-wide events, including the Patriots Day walk in April, Memorial Day observances in May, the Strawberry Festival in June, and Old Home Day on July 4. Besides offering good food or entertainment, these events provide a way for us to get better acquainted with our neighbors.
If we make an effort to preserve those qualities we value most about Carlisle, including a real sense of community, then in twenty years Carlisle will still be a great place to live.
My first Mosquito article, in 1983, was about my stay in Turkey as an AFS exchange student living with a host family for a summer. I especially recall that experience now, for just yesterday Lisa, a 16-year-old from Germany, arrived to live with our family for three months.
Lisa is not here via AFS, or any student exchange program for that matter. Rather, she is the granddaughter of a friend of my German-born mother, so we made the plans directly with her family. We did not know Lisa or her family until we began corresponding a few months ago. She wanted to experience American culture, but found the programs offered by international student programs to be too expensive. We agreed to be her hosts because we would like our own children to learn more German.
Programs that bring foreign students to live with host families are often referred to as student "exchange" programs, even though most are not reciprocal exchanges between the same families or communities. However, now that I am hosting for the first time, I realize that "exchange" is still an apt description.
An "exchange" can certainly describe our arrangement with Lisa. She learns about our American culture and improves her English, and in exchange our children (ages 4 and 6) learn more about Germany and the German language. They also learn about sharing, caring, family participation, and responsibilities as practiced by a much older child. What my husband and I will gain in exchange is still too early to tell, but I imagine, in addition to learning a little about teenagers, we will begin to look at our family from the outside to better appreciate its virtues and identify areas for improvement. We may also discover that we are willing to host again for a longer period.
An "exchange" can also take place over time and space and involve different partners. I feel that I am finally exchanging my wonderful experience as a foreign guest in Turkey by hosting a foreign student as an adult. I remember the mixed emotions of excitement and a little trepidation at the beginning of my two-month stay in Turkey, so far away from home. Now my family has a similar mix of feelings, and I am sure that it is the same with Lisa. Everyone was so nice and friendly to me in Turkey, and I felt I could never repay their kindness. My Turkish host mother made sure I had peers with whom to socialize when my own host sister unexpectedly had to leave home for a summer course. Now, although my own children are too young and Lisa will not be attending school here (she will be doing a part-time internship in a Carlisle preschool), I likewise will try to make sure that Lisa has an enjoyable stay and meets other people her age.
Last year, my Turkish host sister came to the United States for the first time, briefly visiting me and my family. She came with her husband and son, who is the same age as our son. Perhaps some day my Turkish friend and I might arrange a reciprocal exchange of our sons, if they are interested. Based on their experience as hosts to Lisa, I am hopeful that my children, as teenagers, will wish to live for a time with a host family in another country.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito