N O R T H B R I D G E — Members of one local family who have lived in town for nearly 25 years are now sharing their love for the community with a Brazilian exchange student.
Jim Mulgrew said that based on past hosting experiences with his family, they have decided to host the exchange student, Clara, this year; she is a senior at Northbridge High School and will be with the Mulgrew family until mid-June of next year.
“We take many things for granted living here in the U.S., and hosting a student allows us to see ourselves through a different view and helps us understand what it may be like to live in another country,” Mulgrew said.
The family has lived in Northbridge since 1998. “When we were looking at building a home to raise our children, Northbridge reminded me a lot of where I grew up,” Mulgrew said. “Our children are all in their 20s now, but this was a community where everyone looked out for each other and their kids. It was a community where we could volunteer our time and efforts and really have a direct impact on not only our kids, but many others.”
Clara arrived in Northbridge in mid-August. “It is a very brave thing for people so young. They want to expand their understanding of the world and take on new challenges and adventures, to experience what the U.S. is truly, not just what they see on TV,” Mulgrew said. “But with that, they also bring their culture here to host families, so we all benefit from the experience as well.” And as a parent, Mulgrew said he understands that it can be very stressful “to have a child way off in a foreign country and not being able to take care of them if something goes wrong.”
“Having families here who are welcoming, loving, and care for the host student as if they are their own child is a big help to the parents of the student,” he added.
Mulgrew encouraged other families to host an exchange student if they have the resources and time to share. “You don’t have to host for a whole school year either, they have students who are looking to come for half the school year, or even for just a couple months,” he said.
Clara said she loves studying, as well as cinematography, art, and history. In the future, she is considering attending college for marketing in Massachusetts.
“I want to be close to my host-family, and also I love the state, especially Boston, that I think will be perfect for the area that I want to choose to work,” Clara said. “I’m staying with a family that every day gives me the support, love, and caring that I need while I’m here, and that’s why if I go to college in the U.S., I want to be close to them. They are amazing people and we are building an amazing relationship.”
She said that the experience has been “amazing and interesting,” adding “When I first decided to do this exchange program…I already knew that I had to spend almost a year away from my family and how hard it could be for a 17-year-old girl that is still in the grow-up process. I miss my mom, my dad, and my sister so much, I miss all the Brazilian food and meals, but I know that even far away, they are very happy for me and for everything I’m living here.”
She said that what she likes most about Northbridge so far is the “nature and the peace.” “The trees are so beautiful, especially in the fall season,” she said.
Mulgrew said this is not the family’s first time hosting an exchange student. “When our kids were toddlers, we hosted a college student from Japan for four months,” he said, adding that the experience went well and the student had been back several times to visit afterwards. “Our daughter was her flower girl at her wedding in Japan, and she has since brought her children here from Japan to visit us.”
Mulgrew said the family also hosted a high school student from Germany for just over a month in 2012. “We consider them extended family and keep in touch often. With Clara, she will be with us for 10 months until she graduates,” Mulgrew said.
The agency is called Student Ambassador Exchange, based out of Texas, Mulgrew said. “In my whole life, I’ve never imagined that between billions of people, I would meet a second family,” Clara said. “I’m very grateful and happy for everything that is happening right now with me. Never give up on your dreams.”