By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ST. JOSEPH — When a Colombian sixth grader spends his winter break in St. Joseph, he discovers a new culture, learns more of another language, makes new friends and sees his first snow.
And his classmates at Cathedral School learned about another culture, another language and a boy who is really a lot like them.
Santiago Garzon-Moya and his family live in a small mountain town about two hours from Bogota where his parents own a greenery business. Although Santiago had for a while been enrolled in weekend English classes, his parents wanted him to learn American English, as it was used more often in business dealings. His parents agreed the best way to really learn a language was immersion, in the culture, the language and the people. Without telling their son, they began working on getting him to America.
His grandfather’s brother, Dr. Carlos Moya and his wife Carol, live in St. Joseph. Dr. Moya happened to be in Colombia visiting his family and quizzed his great-nephew on his English. He told Santiago’s parents that the boy had a “good basis” to begin immersion.
His parents then told Santiago that he would be spending his winter break in “St. Joseph, America,” with his great-aunt and uncle. “I said, ‘OK,’ … I was a lot excited and a little bit scared,” he remembered.
He had to finish his school term first. Right after school let out for the winter break, Santiago was packed and ready to go. He had his papers, his clothes and shoes, and a hooded sweatshirt in case it got chilly. Little did he know!
His parents drove him to Bogota to catch his flight to Miami, then to Kansas City. He was tired when he arrived, but the Moyas were there to pick him up and take him home to St. Joseph. It was Nov. 1. He was to start at Cathedral School as soon as possible. With all the new sights, sounds and things to look forward to, Santiago remembered being both excited and homesick that first night. Three months sounded like a long time.
At Cathedral School, he found himself in Maggie Sego’s homeroom. Although he had a “good basis” in English, it sounded different from what he’d learned. It took a little time, but he eventually felt comfortable enough with American English to speak up when he had a question or an answer, or wanted to make a new friend. He quickly offered assistance when classmates needed help in Spanish class. Within a few weeks, Santiago was going to a popular ice skating rink with new friends and learning how. Two of them, Sam and Joe, said he learned to ice skate very fast; it didn’t hurt that he roller skates competitively back home. “He told us roller skating was his favorite sport,” Joe said.
He learned about Thanksgiving and about cooold weather. His great-aunt and uncle took him shopping for his very first winter coat.
He enjoyed science, “didn’t like Math that much,” and with Sam, Joe and other friends, “engaged in activities besides school.” One classmate, Natalie, recalled the boys showing Santiago “how to play basketball. Sometimes he would play soccer … during recess.”
He wasn’t that impressed with snow flurries, although he thought they were interesting. But when it snowed enough to shovel, now that was cool! He even enjoyed shoveling his great-aunt and uncle’s driveway.
One thing that stood out in Sam and Joe’s minds, and likely long remembered by Santiago, was a New Year’s Eve party at Sam’s house. The boys were at the ice rink, and when Sam heard that Santiago had no plans for that evening, he called his mom to see if he could come to the party at his house that night. Sam’s mom was agreeable and called Santiago’s great-aunt Carol, and so it was arranged. Along with several other friends and their parents, the Moyas came and Santiago recalled how much fun it was. The boys played Battlefront on Sam’s Play Station 4, ate pizza and goofed around. They watched TV and wished each other Happy New Year at midnight.
Sam said, “I would like him to remember the times he had with us here … and … English; maybe teach it to his friends.” He said Santiago was always friendly, “carrying on a conversation even when his English wasn’t that good. Now it’s almost perfect!”
Several classmates shared thoughts about the months Santiago spent with them. Allison “liked having Santiago in our class. He was really quiet at the beginning … now he’s opened up a lot. He helped us in Spanish class.” Shannon “liked having two Spanish teachers – Senora Dominguez and Senor Santiago!”
Max thought Santiago “really nice. … a good friend and …really smart. … also a good influence.” Adan thought Santiago “brought more discipline to our class and … has been nice, fun, smart … first time playing basketball. We taught him lots of English … a great kid.”
Rudy summed up his class’s thoughts: “Santiago is a great kid. … always willing to help. … it would take a lot of guts to come from a whole different country and culture. … a true sign of love and compassion … Goodbye Santiago, you will always be remembered at Cathedral.”
His mother and grandfather flew in Jan. 27 to pick him up. Back home now, Santiago has lots of memories to share, in both Spanish and English.