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n WHS freshman Ross Pollen participates in Spanish exchange program

When Ibedrola Renewables went looking for American teenagers willing to participate in a two-way exchange program with Spain, Ross Pollen, age 14, said, “Si.”

“He was gung ho right away,” his mother, Shannon, said. “He’s an adventurous kind of guy.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - While in Oregon, the Spanish exchange students took in a lot of sights and even made it to a Timbers game. Here, Aitor Guitierrez Gonzales (left) and Ross Pollen pose with Timber Joey at the game last Friday.Across the ocean, a Spanish teenager, Aitor Guitierrez Gonzales, 13, also said yes to the program. Just like that, the two boys — from different nations, speaking different languages — laid the groundwork for an international friendship that could last their lifetimes.

Both boys’ fathers work for Ibedrola, an international energy corporation with offices in the United States and overseas. Each year, the company arranges brief international exchanges for the children of employees.

This year, Ross and Aitor were among groups of four students each from Spain and the United States to participate.

First, Ross visited Aitor’s home, in the city of Bilboa, Spain, located on the country’s north coast, just south of the French border.

“His parents gave us this beautiful book from Bilboa,” Shannon said. “They took Ross to some beautiful places.”

High on his list of favorite sites is the building in Bilboa that houses his father’s company.

“I really like the Ibedrola Tower,” he said. “In the city, the biggest building is the Ibedrola Tower.”

He also appreciated the city’s world-famous Guggenheim Museum. But nothing tops the trip he took with his host family to nearly Pamplona — the city famous for the running of the bulls. Ibedrola arranged for the students to attend a special children’s party there.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Aitor Guitierrez Gonzales of Bilboa, Spain, left, and Wilsonville teen Ross Pollen took turns hosting each other as part of an exchange program organized by their fathers international employer.

“We went before the running of the bulls,” Ross said. “It was really crowded, but nice. I thought it was cool, but kind of weird at the same time. It was slightly like a marathon, I guess.”

Ross’s dad thinks it’s ironic that his son got to go to Pamplona before he himself did. Both Joe and his father-in-law have the running of the bulls on their “bucket lists.”

“It’s funny that the youngest person in the family has had that experience,” Joe said.

Ross’s favorite activities in Spain included paddle boarding and sailing — two hobbies he is interested in pursuing back at home. His host family went out of the way to provide food he would enjoy, including Chinese food and hamburgers.

To Aitor’s delight, the family’s menu even contained pizza, his favorite food, rather than more traditional Spanish dishes like chorizo and paella.

“It’s a universal thing,” Shannon said. “I made a spaghetti dish the other night. He’s a good eater.”

Although neither boy speaks the other’s language fluently, they found ways to interact.

“They have the universal language of video games,” Shannon said.

Aitor has been to all the typical Oregon tourist destinations, including Mount Hood, the Oregon coast, OMSI, Mount St. Helens and onto the river for a jet boat ride.

“They gave them a good taste,” Shannon said.

Aitor has a younger sister at home and he said he’d give her a “thumbs up” if she expressed interest in participating in the exchange program when she is old enough. The best part of the experience, for him, has been getting to experience the American way of living. The biggest difference has been the American’s style of dwelling, he said.

“People live in houses here, and in Bilboa they live on floors,” he said, meaning levels in apartment buildings. He appreciated having more room in Wilsonville, he added.

Ross’s older brother has been influenced positively by the exchange, too. He previously had declined to participate, his parents said. Now, having seen Ross enjoy the experience, he is considering applying for the program next year.

“We had a great experience,” Shannon said. “It’s a different experience when you have your youngest fly away. There’s definitely a bit of a sad mom thing going on. I’m really proud of him. He definitely came back a little more independent, a little more grown up.”

“I was really afraid,” Ross said. “Then I just decided to do it, to just power through. I had a great time. When I got there, I wasn’t scared at all.”

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
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