Teens traveling alone to other countries can be an exciting and scary time for the entire family. J&J dad Mark put his son on a plane to travel to Madrid, Spain alone this summer for a Spanish language immersion program. Find out what he learned about sending children off to have new experiences.
Since our 3 children were infants, my wife Jackie and I have worked to instill a sense of curiosity in each of them. Now that they’re young adults, they apply their curiosity in different ways, pursuing new experiences and opportunities to better themselves.
Because my mother-in-law is from Puerto Rico, all 3 of our kids chose Spanish when the time came to take a language in school. And while they’ve had the opportunity to use their Spanish with Grandma and during our many trips to Puerto Rico to visit family and explore the culture, none of them had been fluent in the language – until now.
This past summer my wife and I decided to send our youngest, Jackson, to a language immersion program in Madrid, Spain. While we knew this would be a tremendous learning experience, we were nervous about Jackson traveling alone. He had never been away from home for an extended period of time. His older sister and brother are away at college during the school year, and he likes to be at home with my wife and me. As a result, our concerns ranged from who would be picking him up at the Madrid airport, to whether he would be comfortable with his host family, to the thought of him getting homesick – or worse – so far away.
About 10 restless hours after saying goodbye to Jackson at Newark airport, he sent us a text letting us know he had landed in Spain safely, was greeted at the airport and was looking forward to beginning classes the next day.
Jackson’s immersion program allowed him to live with a host family, rather than in a university dormitory, which enhanced his cultural experience. Jackson’s host mother, Doña Elena, has been hosting students from around the world in her central Madrid home for years. In addition to speaking only Spanish in her home, she guided the students in experiencing the Spanish culture. And according to Jackson, the food Doña Elena prepared each day was ‘amazing.’
We traveled to Madrid to pick up Jackson at the conclusion of his program and then headed to Barcelona for some time on the beach. While in Madrid, we had the pleasure of meeting Doña Elena. When the time came for Jackson to say goodbye, it was clear a bond had formed over the course of his stay.
Throughout the remainder of our visit to Spain, Jackson demonstrated how much his Spanish had progressed, ordering at restaurants, getting directions and prompting us when our Spanish was less than accurate.
Other than a brief bout with homesickness, the original fears we had about sending Jackson abroad were unfounded. He had settled into his routine at school, was very comfortable at Doña Elena’s home and had a great time with new friends from around the world. His Spanish had improved dramatically, his knowledge about the Spanish culture was impressive and his global perspective expanded by leaps and bounds. Traveling alone really helped my son grow. That being said, we were very happy to get Jackson back home.
As a member of the global Communications & Public Affairs team at Johnson & Johnson, I have the opportunity to experience diverse perspectives rooted in different cultures every day. I’m particularly gratified to have been able to offer Jackson – at 15 years-of-age – a similar experience.
Mark Wolfe has been with Johnson & Johnson for more than 11 years and is currently Senior Director, Strategic Communication & Global Leadership Positioning working in the company’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices & Diagnostics segments. He and his wife, Jackie, have been married for 24 years and reside in Northern New Jersey. Together with their children, they have traveled extensively throughout the U.S and Europe.