Hello, my name is Maritza Gonzalez, mother to Karen Gonzalez, the exchange student from Colombia that has attended Crookston High this past year. Some years ago and somehow paraphrasing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King “I had a Dream”, this dream was to give my daughter the opportunity to fly high, really high. As time passed by, the time came to make it happen, anguish and fear started to gain up on me, questions and doubts, namely “what if she crashes?” or “what if things do not go as we thought?” or “what if she is not welcomed?” or “what if she has a problem, who will help her?”.

    Life as perfect as ever, opened this opportunity, the international exchange student program in Crookston, Minnesota in the USA. A place we did not know it existed, somewhere in a Country we did not know, mixed feelings, happiness, anguish, fear, sadness, all felt at the same time or one after the other, but on top of it, just the determination to make this dream come true. Very little time after we learned the place where she was headed, we had internet contact with the host family, Greg and Karen Swanson.

    A year ago, I was putting my little girl, whom had never left my side, on a plane to a new country, a new culture and a family we barely knew. She had to travel all by herself to a place I don’t even know yet, in the middle of winter, this was Karen´s first time of looking to the snow. Crookston this unknown town for us, became Karen´s home, she was welcomed, as shy as she always has been, she managed to follow through. To Karen and Greg, I offer my greatest and deepest gratitude, my little caterpillar has emerged as a beautiful butterfly, a young woman with a new vision of life. This is why I want to thank Crookston, MN, for the warm welcome it gave my little daughter, especially the Swanson´s, they became Karen´s family so far away, and they provided the family support to a total stranger, coming from such a different culture and background. Greg and Karen, you opened not only the doors of your home, but also your hearts to Karen, you ushered her on her happy times and also on the not so good ones, you where there when she had difficulties being so far away from us, her family. You invited her to be a part of all your families´ activities, thanks to you, she cruised all the way to Texas, to attend your daughter´s marriage, and I thank you for that.

    Now, Karen is coming home, I am very grateful for all what the Swanson´s from Crookston, MN gave to Karen, I am grateful to Crookston High school for receiving my daughter, to her classmates, all of them, but only some of them I can remember now, Anna, Sophie, Heidi; I am grateful to her teachers for the profound and meaningful experience in my daughter´s life, to all of you, my most deepest thanks.

    I hope in a near future I will be able to travel to Crookston, MN, and give each and every one of you, this thanks in person and hug you tightly, for what you did for my daughter. Once again, thank you Karen and Greg Swanson, thank you all you guys in Crookston High, thank you Crookston Times, a newspaper that gave me a sense of closeness for what my Karen was living every day and finally, thank you Crookston, MN, for welcoming my daughter, to all of you, I will be eternally grateful.

    Know that if ever in Colombia, look us up…

    With love and gratefulness.

Maritza Gonzalez
Colombia, South America