A pair of Hoover High School juniors, San Thang and Eh Law, are already well-traveled, but the trips they anticipate this summer as student-tourists will be unlike their previous journeys.
Both came to America from refugee camps as young children, San from Burma and Eh from Thailand.
In July, they are bound for Spain and South Korea, respectively, courtesy of scholarships awarded them by CIEE, the Council on International Educational Exchange.
Each of the young globetrotters was naturalized as an American citizen earlier this year, and they also have Fabian Ruiz in common, the Hoover Spanish teacher whose self-assigned mission is to scatter student ambassadors around the world. Last year, five Hoover students applied for CIEE summer travel programs and three received the full scholarships necessary to finance their studies abroad.
“This year we had 15 applicants,” Ruiz said, “and they all were offered some aid, but only these two got the maximum. All they have to pay for are their airfares. CIEE pays the rest.”
San plans to enroll in Ruiz’s AP Spanish class next fall after his month-long stay in Madrid this summer. Already multilingual, Spanish will be his fifth language when he achieves fluency.
“I just feel like the more languages you can speak, the easier it is to understand and relate to people,” San said before school Monday morning. He has the stuff ambassadors are made of.
So does Eh. This excerpt from her CIEE application essay speaks to how far Eh’s come since she arrived in the United States a decade ago:
All throughout my life I’ve experienced various challenges and struggles, but the one that has made an everlasting impression on me is when I came to America in 1st grade from the Karen refugee camp in Thailand. I remember this time in my life so vividly. I cried the whole entire trip to the United States and became very sick because I was so upset and scared of going on a plane. At that time in my life, I’d never been separated from my family before, so I had to say goodbye because a majority of them were left behind. I remember when I first arrived… I was very intimidated. I didn’t know how to speak or comprehend the English language. This made me a target to be picked on by bullies and gave me a difficult time learning in school. Since I didn’t know how to speak English I almost never spoke up and voiced my opinion. Now that I look back on this time in my life, I realize how much I have grown and learned from this situation. Through this whole process I’ve come to understand that it’s okay to be different and if people make fun of that, it is their loss. I’ve learned to speak up for those who may be new to the country because… I have this new-found confidence in who I am… I’ve also learned that distance may be an obstacle, but it doesn’t define who is a part of your family. Going through this huge challenge at such an early age has prepared me to face new challenges with a whole new approach…I was given the opportunity to have a better education, because in Thailand I would’ve worked to make extra income at a young age instead of being able to go to school. I was protected from wars and given freedom to be whoever I want to be in the future.
Neither of Ruiz’s latest disciples is likely to forget where they came from, or to let their passports lapse. Happy to be newly minted Americans, they both project as global citizens, which is just what an IB curriculum like the one offered at Hoover is designed to produce.
Ruiz, too, will again be on the go this summer, first to Mexico and from there to Spain. That puts the running total of ports of call stamped into his passport at more than 25.
Who better to teach at a school as diverse as Hoover?