Advertisement
Jeff McCreary, left, hangs out with guest students from the United World College, Jasmine Lee of Hong Kong and Anna Abad of Spain, at The Mud Hut by Agapao Coffee in downtown Santa Fe on Sept. 9.
Syndii McCreary, right, hangs out with guest students from the United World College, Jasmine Lee of Hong Kong and Anna Abad of Spain, at the Design Center on Sept. 9.
From left, Jeff McCreary; his wife, Syndii McCreary; and their guest students from the United World College, Anna Abad of Spain and Jasmine Lee of Hong Kong, walk through downtown Santa Fe on Sept. 9.

Jeff McCreary, left, hangs out with guest students from the United World College, Jasmine Lee of Hong Kong and Anna Abad of Spain, at The Mud Hut by Agapao Coffee in downtown Santa Fe on Sept. 9.
Few days pass when Anna Abad isn’t thinking of her home across the ocean.
Amid her bustling schedule at United World College-USA in Montezuma, sometimes she becomes overwhelmed by the longing for loved ones and familiar things.
The Madrid, Spain, native joined 3,000 other teenagers who left their homelands this year to become global citizens as students of United World College, an international boarding school for junior and senior high school students. She is one of 230 students enrolled at the Northern New Mexico campus.
Luckily, she has a local volunteer mom and dad to help bring a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar land.
Syndii and Jeff McCreary of Santa Fe, whose children are grown, decided to open their home to Anna and other students through Get-Away Families, a program at the school that unites visiting students with local families to ease the burden of being a teenager in a faraway country.
“Being able to go somewhere and distance yourself and have a family meal, having someone to talk to with an outside perspective, that’s great,” Anna said.
Syndii McCreary is a pediatric nurse specializing in adolescent health care; her husband is retired from an international sales job.
This is the McCrearys’ fourth year as host parents. The investment isn’t time consuming or hard to manage, Syndii McCreary said. “Their schedule is so busy and so structured, we’re lucky if we get three or four visits a semester, but honestly what they really love is a home-cooked meal and to sit around the table and talk and play board games. They even tolerate Jeff’s goofy dad jokes.”
“I’m one of those few adults who love teenagers,” she added. “It’s an experience that’s so meaningful to both the students and the families.”
Syndii McCreary and her husband also host Anna’s friend Jasmine Lee of Hong Kong. Jasmine had been unable to find a host family, so the McCrearys invited her into their home, where each teen has her own personal space.
“So many students wanted getaway parents and were never placed with anyone,” Syndii McCreary said.
Syndii McCreary, right, hangs out with guest students from the United World College, Jasmine Lee of Hong Kong and Anna Abad of Spain, at the Design Center on Sept. 9.
While dozens of students and Get-Away Families are already paired, there are many still in need of local families, said Carl-Martin Nelson, the school’s director of communications.
“People learn about our school and want to know how they can be part of that community,” he said. “Once you conjoin the community and the school, it’s just magical.”
Nelson added, “We need more families from Northern New Mexico who can host these really remarkable, very talented and driven students from all over the world. These are families who want a global experience for their kids and who are eager to have these kids in their homes. Families with younger children find it really appealing to host a teenager from the Republic of Congo or from New Zealand or from Singapore.”
Host families must provide transportation to and from the Montezuma campus, about 10 miles outside Las Vegas, N.M. They must also pass a security check and provide proof of auto insurance.
Prospective families are asked about their lifestyles and if they have pets or are vegetarians, so the school can make the best pairing with students.
Visitation is flexible and can include weekends or local visits to the Montezuma campus. Host parents are also invited to school events and functions.
“Then they’re kind of part of our community,” Nelson said.
Like the McCrearys, most host families learned about the program through word of mouth.
“This program breaks down prejudices and barriers of culture and language,” Nelson said. “It builds bridges and connections. We call ourselves a movement in that we seek students who want to make the world a better place.”
When COVID-19 struck New Mexico in 2020, Anna needed a break from dorm life in school lockdown, so after she was given a negative test result, she stayed with the McCrearys for a week.
“The landscape there is beautiful, especially in the winter with the snow,” Anna said. “The sunsets are just stunning.”
Around that same time, Jasmine wasn’t allowed to visit her home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, so she accompanied the McCrearys on a family trip to Florida to visit Syndii McCreary’s 93-year-old mother. There, Jasmine experienced her first Christmas, and in turn, she taught the adults how to play the authentic Chinese tile game, Mahjong.
From left, Jeff McCreary; his wife, Syndii McCreary; and their guest students from the United World College, Anna Abad of Spain and Jasmine Lee of Hong Kong, walk through downtown Santa Fe on Sept. 9.
Back in Santa Fe, Anna has benefited from Syndii McCreary’s association with the Museum of New Mexico Foundation and has learned more about the culture of Northern New Mexico through the eyes of her hosts.
“Anna particularly loves museums and folk art, so we have gone to all of them except the history museum,” Syndii McCreary said. “On our very first visit with her, she expressed an interest in Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, and she absolutely loves the differences in the big, huge European museums and our small, quaint and focused museums. It’s something she finds very intriguing. And we do a lot of coffee stops, or sometimes we’ll just go to the Plaza and stroll and people watch.”
Anna said she appreciates the concern the McCrearys show for her.
“We have very insightful conversations. They’re interested in how I am and how my family is and what my plans are for the future,” she said. “Sometimes, they just show up and bring me a little snack bag, or they’ll drive up and we’ll go to lunch. It’s been a very positive experience.”
Anna and her host family plan to keep in touch as she pursues her university degree, likely in public policy.
Syndii McCreary said it’s best to become familiar with an arriving student so the relationship can evolve over their two-year commitment in Montezuma.
The students are bright and insightful, she said. “It’s interesting how they learn to discuss differences in such a civil way. They learn such specific conflict resolution. It would be so tremendously valuable if every student could have this type of experience.”
Nelson said United World College has students from 95 countries, who compete for scholarships to attend.
The Montezuma campus hosts about 50 U.S. students as well, with about five from New Mexico.
In the coming months, Syndii McCreary will make care packages to deliver to Anna and Jasmine to help them through difficult testing periods.
“By the second year, I know what they like, so I’ll bring a package for finals week, put together snacks and aromatherapy stuff, peppermint candies for concentration, hot teas and fun, little things,” she said. “They don’t have parents to do that for them here, so that’s me.”
Advertisement
Sorry, there are no recent results for popular videos.
Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.
Sorry, an error occurred.

Stay informed of the latest local news by receiving emails as soon as news is posted online.
Receive a list of headlines from the latest edition of The New Mexican in your inbox every morning.
Contests and special offers from The Santa Fe New Mexican and advertising partners.

Thank you .
Your account has been registered, and you are now logged in.
Check your email for details.
Invalid password or account does not exist
Submitting this form below will send a message to your email with a link to change your password.
An email message containing instructions on how to reset your password has been sent to the e-mail address listed on your account.

Secure & Encrypted
Secure transaction. Cancel anytime.

Thank you.
Your purchase was successful, and you are now logged in.
A receipt was sent to your email.

source

Shop Sephari