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7 January 2005

Charlie was on the Today Show the other day.  Seeing him on the screen, I was instantly hit with tons of memories.  Walt also burst into my office shouting "HEY!" and pointing to the screen.  We hadn't seen him in a very long time.

"Charlie" is Charles MacCormack, the current head of Save the Children, who was talking about the work that his organization is doing for the children affected by the disaster in Indonesia.

When I knew Charlie, however, he was the president of The Experiment in International Living.

I have never joined an organization where I was able to sit back and just be a "member."  I've always ended up helping to run things, and The Experiment in International Living was a perfect example.

Really, all I wanted to do was the experience of getting to know a foreign student.  Eduardo came in 1980--came to spend 3 weeks and stayed 5 months.  The experience of dealing with his group was so much fun that when the woman who had coordinated the group told me that she was retiring from being the coordinator, there were only two choices--either I took over for her, or the program would die in Davis.

Naturally, I said I'd do it.  And naturally, I was woefully unprepared.  But over the next year or so, I placed a lot of foreign students in a lot of homes.  I guess I worked hard because I was invited to join the "President's Council," which consisted of some 30 people from around the country, representatives for their area (my area was California and Nevada--and maybe Hawaii.  I'm not sure about Hawaii--Hawaii was in my area when I was working with La Leche League!)

The Council met twice a year, in various locations.  The first meeting was in my own back yard--in San Francisco, where I first met my friend Roz, who remains my friend today, 20 years after we first met.  The next meeting was in the fall and they decided to bring us to the Experiment Headquarters in Brattleboro, Vermont.   It was my first opportunity to see fall color in New England and it was amazing.

I think our next meeting was in St. Louis and then we went back to Vermont again.  There may have been another meeting in there.  I can't remember.   They paid all our expenses and flew us around the country.  Such a deal.

The council was headed by other people, but Charlie would make an appearance to thank us for all our hard work and we all got the chance to know him.   He was a lovely man and the thing I remember most about him was that his family went through a terrible tragedy, which I won't recount here, but it may have resulted (this is only a guess on my part) in his moving from The Experiment to Save the Children.

The Experiment in International Living was an ultimately painful experience for me, at least the hierarchy of the volunteer wing.  On the one hand it was the start of our getting to know some 70 people from other countries, some of whom came thru The Experiment, some of whom were friends of friends.

Working on the President's Council was a lot of fun and got me a very nice friendship in Roz and Stan.

But it also was brought me one of the worst days of my life to that date.   At the last council meeting I attended in Vermont, I was "invited" to meet with the heads of the council.

"Sounds like I'm being called to the principal's office," I joked to the volunteer president.

"Oh nothing like that," she laughed.  "We just wanted to talk with you."

In the preceding months, several very unpleasant things had happened as a result of poor preparation of the students on the part of the sending countries and I had expressed my frustration with those things, so I assumed that they wanted to talk to me about that.

I can still picture it to this day.

They sat me in a chair in a dark room facing a table where about four people sat.

And they proceeded to tell me how unfit I was to be a host parent.   It seems that ONE of the students we had hosted had complained about the condition of our house.  I was told that unless I could "clean up my act," I could never host another student.  Only it wasn't that cut and dried.  These people who had never set foot in my house were passing judgment on me, and refusing to look at the file full of praise for the homestay experience that all the preceding students had had with us.

I left with my tail between my legs.  I contined to work for The Experiment for another six months or so.  The final blow came when papers came through for Olaf.  Olaf was from Germany and his letter of introduction read like he'd been living in our house forever.  He was into theatre and all the things we liked.  So I decided to be honest with Olaf.  I wrote to him and told him everything, but said that we really would like to host him if he thought it sounded like an OK deal with him.

Olaf was thrilled.  He said that we sounded perfect for him and that the important thing for him was interaction with people, not condition of the house.   So I decided to host him and sent my letter and his letter to the head of the volunteers.  I received a call and was told that because I had contacted him ahead of time, I was not permitted to host him.  I quit on the spot.

But I had the last laugh.  Olaf was placed with a family in Texas that he hated.  We corresponded during his homestay and I invited him to come and visit us during Easter.  He did, on his own, we blended the way we knew that we would, and he has remained a part of our family ever since--and he never communicated with his host family after his homestay was finished.  He came to spend some time with us at the end of his homestay before he returned to his own home.  When Paul was traveling around Europe, he went and spent time with Olaf's family.  Olaf also came to visit us again to introduce us to the woman who would become his wife.  He hadn't communicated with his host family in years, he told me.

None of this had anything to do with Charlie, of course.  Charlie ran the entire School for International Training, of which The Experiment in International Living was only a small part.  Charlie was a very nice man and I'm thrilled to see him heading up Save the Children.  It gives me confidence that Save the Children is a good, honest organization.

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bitter?  who me??


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Brattleboro, VT - 1986

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