Over the weekend my girlfriend's parents welcomed a pair of Japanese high school students into their home to experience American culture.
It's part of a program at Lunenburg High School, where her brother, Shawn, is a freshman.
On Friday evening, Lindsay and I went to her parents' house to meet the young men, and we were surprised at how little English they were able to speak.
I was interested in learning more about these students, so I tried my hardest to find some sort of connection with them ... much to Lindsay's surprise, that connection happened to be sports.
I pulled out my IPhone and showed the boys a picture of Fenway Park and asked them if they liked baseball?
Their eyes lit up and one of them informed me that he played baseball. When I asked him what position he played he shot me a nervous smile and wrote out the two letter abbreviation of "OF" for outfield.
By Saturday afternoon when Lindsay and I came to hang out with our new Japanese friends, they had already made a trip with the family to The Mall at Whitney Field.
What did they both buy? Red Sox jerseys and caps, of course.
Like most American teenagers, our Japanese visitors said they wanted to experience hamburgers and pizza.
So, Lindsay's parents greeted them with a big homemade pizza and one from a local shop to try. Let's just say their bellies were very full.
My girlfriend's mother told us the story about how she was nervous about bringing two 16-year-old boys to the mall to shop, so she sent them with Shawn.
Shawn and his mother brought them into a large chain store first and the exchange students bolted to the racks of Red Sox gear and were proceeding to the register, when the mother stopped them and told them to check the price.
They did not care about how much the jersey cost, they just wanted a Red Sox jersey.
After a few minutes of trying to explain bargain-hunting to two nonnative English speakers, they headed out into the mall where they found the same jersey for $20 less. Needless to say, Lindsay's mother made a lasting impact on those two students. The boys could not wait to show Lindsay and I their new Red Sox gear. I came over with a Red Sox cap on my head and they ran to their rooms and brought their stuff down with a smile. As we started to exit the house that night, I left one of the boys, who told me he was a baseball player, with a simple statement ... "I hope to see you in the Major Leagues."
The student uttered back in broken English, "I hope you do, too," he said with a wink. In that little exchange, I learned that sports have a language of their own. You can watch a baseball or soccer game in another language and still know what is going on ... so long as you understand the sport. It does not matter how you write your name or ask for a drink. All that matters is how you play the game. All political and cultural differences are sent to the back-burner for nine innings of baseball or 90 minutes in soccer for a brief reprieve from the real world.
Our new Japanese friends helped open my eyes to cultures other than the melting pot that is the United States. But these Japanese students helped nail home my belief that sports bring people of varying backgrounds together on common ground. Take the World Cup, for example. The United States is on the cusp of qualifying for the Round of Eight, a feat it has not accomplished in over a decade. It is an escape for everyone from the hassles of everyday life, regardless of how much of a soccer fan they are. Soccer is often regarded as the world's game .. but for those of us here in the United States, it does not get nearly the support it does globally.
But for one month every four years, nearly every American is at least keeping track of how the boys in the red, white and blue are faring against the elite soccer nations in the World Cup.
Maybe these Japanese students I had the pleasure to meet will share the positive experiences they had in small town America. We can only hope, folks. Have a happy Fourth of July: Take in a baseball game and have a hot dog; it's America's birthday. For only a couple of days those Japanese boys had a chance to experience some of what being an American is all about.
Eating to excess and bargain-shopping ... or is that just how my family works?