November 1, 2015

A lifetime connection to Greece was something Susan Schwartz couldn’t have predicted when she decided to spend a summer in the Mediterranean as part of The Experiment in International Living. “I picked Greece because in fourth grade we studied Greece for the entire year. I had a really good teacher,” she said.

The year was 1966, and at that time it took two weeks by ship to get there, which she says was part of the adventure for a young American student. She lived with a host family in Preveza, a small seaside city in northwest Greece, and traveled with other Experimenters around the country. But it wasn’t the days spent in Athens or the cultural heritage sites such as Olympia and Delphi that made such a deep and lasting impression on her. Instead, it was the warmth of Susan’s host family that has endured for nearly 50 years.

“As a teenager they were better than my real family. I didn’t want to go home,” recalled the Chicago native. “The parents treated me like their youngest daughter.”

Susan believes that what makes The Experiment special is the immersive nature of the program which centers on the homestay.

She’s not the only Experimenter in her family. Her daughter Emily went to Mexico when she was 16 and as a result of her experience went on to learn Spanish and Portuguese and majored in Latin American studies. She became a journalist and ran the Dow Jones news bureau in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Said Susan proudly, “It gave her her start. As a result of The Experiment she became a Latina for her whole life.”

At the request of the Vermont office, Susan hosted Helene de Koven, a French medical student from Colmar, while Emily was away. Now Susan, a retired book publisher, says she is trying to convince her teenage granddaughter to be an Experimenter as well.

This summer, a generous gift from the Schwartz family provided scholarships for several students from the Midwest to take part in The Experiment. She supported the program because she believes it encourages young adults to embrace a global world and creates lasting bonds between people.

Susan has been back to Greece many times over the years to visit her host family and stays in close touch with her Greek sister Elizabeth, who, she says with relief, finally got email. Susan’s Greek family even hosted a 75th-birthday celebration for her mother in Athens several years ago.

While she laments that there’s no Experiment program for adults, Susan jokes that she and her husband are looking forward to their upcoming “homestay” with her Greek family next month.