My wife and I have always loved travelling - the more far-flung, the better. In recent years though, we haven’t been nearly as footloose. Kids will do that to you. Between the added expense of additional airfares, school schedules, and a reluctance to plunge totally into the unknown with a young child in tow, our travel in recent years has been much more limited than it used to be. Most travel we do these days is back to Ireland to visit my wife’s family rather than off to places we’ve never been before.
Of course one of the great pleasures of travel is meeting people from different countries, different cultures, and hearing or speaking different languages. When we moved to Newton a few years ago I expected the population to be fairly homogenous and American. We were pleased and pleasantly surprised to find a bit more variety of cultures and nationalities than we expected. Perhaps all over the city, but definitely here on the south side of the city there are far more immigrant families than I imagined before moving here. While Upper Falls isn’t Queens, there are a surprising number of different languages spoken in homes around here. At my daughter’s school (Countryside) I believe there are children whose families have immigrated here from more than twenty other countries.
In the past year, we discovered a relatively new, Internet enabled, way of indulging our yen for meeting folks from around the world – “couch surfing”. The general idea is based on Internet sites that match up travelers from around the world with residents who are willing to give them a place to sleep for a few nights. We’ve been using a site called tripping.com and have taken in a few batches of travelers for a few days at a time. As you might guess, the travelers are typically 20-somethings travelling cheap and they tend to be an upbeat, independent and very pleasant lot. So far our tripping.com visitors have all been European.
Our most recent visitors were here just this past week. We received a request on Friday morning from France about two travelers staying for a few days. Jean Batiste arrived the following night from France and then on Monday his friend Cindy arrived on a bus from Montreal. You couldn’t have asked for two more pleasant guests. They mostly entertained themselves. They’d head off on the T in the morning and spend the day wandering in Boston and Cambridge, seeing the sites. We’d see them in the evening and hear all about their day’s exploits. Jean Batiste was here over the weekend so we also brought him along to a big family Easter brunch and he had a fine time.
My nine year old daughter takes it all in stride and seems to like the adventure of these occasional random foreigners landing on us for no apparent reason. These occasional “couch surfer” visitors are a minor and welcome intrusion on our day to day lives.
We have some Upper Falls neighbors though who host visitors from around the world in a much more serious way. Jan and Susan Huffman have been hosting visiting students from around the world for the last three years. Each student stays for anywhere from four weeks to nine months while studying English at nearby schools (Education First & English Center). They typically have four students at a time from four different countries so that everyone gets plenty of English practice at home as well as at school. At the moment, Limin from China, Alvaro from Spain, Cheolmin from Korea, and Loic from Switerland are all staying with the Huffmans. Dinner time at their house is like the United Nations though with a lot more laughs and fewer resolutions.
There’s just something about spending time with people from other places, other cultures and other life experiences that is rejuvenating. Until we can get back to travelling around the world, we’ll settle for bringing the rest of the world here to our couches and spare rooms in Upper Falls.