Friday morning, the whole group boarded a bus from Arao to the Fukuoka airport at about 11am Friday morning. We said our tearful goodbyes to the host families, it was clear that they did not want us to go. All the families walked along side the bus until the edge of the parking lot waving goodbye and some of the Sanvino kids followed the bus along the sidewalk as we pulled into traffic. A couple host familes came with us on the bus ride to the airport. We said one last goodbye to those families at the airport. We also wished Jamie and Bill a safe trip as they were taking a domestic flight to Tokyo for a short side trip before heading home. The rest of the group boarded the flight at Fukuoka airport for the shortest leg of the trip home. As the plane headed away from the gate and moved towards the runway we could see the Sanvino familes lined across the observation deck all waving goodbye.
We landed in Seoul and found heightened security, but thankfully we had a long layover and did not have to fret about making the next flight. The girls also used the long layover to explore a little of the Seoul International airport, finding a Dunkin Donuts that dosen't serve donuts, a Quizno's with small sandwiches, and the hit of all Starbucks which did serve coffee. Soon enough we were on our longest flight of the trip. Here, the girls showed what pros they had become at travel. They ate the first meal and settled down for sleep. They woke up in time for the second meal and used the remaining time to watch a movie. We were landing at LAX before they knew it. After immigration and customs, we separated from a second player, whose parents met her there. Then we made a hasty trek to the domestic terminal to check in for our final flight home. The girls were all tired, but in great spirits. I think most, if not all, stayed awake during the LAX to DEN leg so they'd be tired enough to sleep when they got home.
At Denver, the families were all waiting anxiously at the main terminal to welcome us home. I heard a round of clapping and saw some very relieved faces when we arrived at the main concourse. I think all the parents were extremely proud of their children. It is not a small thing to travel internationally, especially at 14 years old and without a parent. Oscar and I made sure to have a quick talk with the parents. We will meet again in the next couple of weeks to go over the trip, look at photos and discuss experiences. We also look forward to getting news on Sanvino's plans for a visit to Colorado.
From the Sanvino side, Coach Yamada emailed to say that there was not a dry eye when we left. He likened the tears to those that would be shed at a daughter's marriage. It is amazing to me to see that people can create deep and meaningful bonds in such a short period of time.
From my part, as both a parent and a principal in the Marcia Foundation, I cannot thank Coach Yamada and the Sanvino families nearly enough for the wonderful experiences they gave to the girls (and parents and siblings). Over the course of the week, I often heard the participants say things like, "trip of a lifetime" or "something I will never forget". The girls have even started discussing a trip to Arao after their high school graduation. Now that's planning ahead and setting long term goals!
Thank you, Sanvino. Thank you Hiro. Thank you parents. Thank you all.