When Madison Maselko became pen pals with two girls from Mercedes, Uruguay, she learned that friendships can blossom even a continent away. But this fall, the Foster School fifth-grader got to meet her far-flung friends when they visited Mt. Lebanon to sample life here. “I learned that even though we come from different cultures, there is a lot that we have in common,” Madison says.
The pen pal program at Foster and Howe elementary schools connects students with Uruguay’s Number 65 Educardo Victor Haedo School, where Vale Fontora and Naomi Mezquida attend. The two girls were given the opportunity to visit their Pittsburgh pen pals for two weeks with two local families through a U.S. Department of State cultural grant. The Maselkos hosted Vale and Naomi at their Highridge Circle home for five days, during which they tackled the girls’ “wish lists” of things to do on their trip. As Julie Maselko, Madison’s mother, reads the list out loud, it is easy to understand why Madison, Vale and Naomi had so much fun. This list contains some of the most coveted childhood activities packed into one week: Eat doughnuts, go to the zoo, watch a movie and go shopping. Julie says that these were not difficult things to cross off the list, and they also took Vale and Naomi to some of their other favorite spots.
“We went to Eat ’n Park and made sure they got their Smiley Cookies. And, we even went to Texas Roadhouse where they had line dancing. Talk about an American place to eat!”
The biggest surprise for Vale and Naomi was the late October snowfall. Although this prelude to winter may have left some Mt. Lebanon residents grumbling, it was quite a treat for the two girls who had never seen snow before. “When I woke them up, they were tripping over each other to get to the window. They even Skyped their parents to show them the snow,” Julie says.
The Maselkos plan to keep in touch with Vale and Naomi, and Madison looks forward to the next letter she receives from her pen pals. And, after all of the laughter Julie heard between Vale, Naomi and Madison, she agrees with her daughter: “Fun is fun, no matter where you are from. For girls this young, it was an amazing experience.”