Jottings: 1980s student exchange program was a success
Oct. 8, 1986 is a day Steve Bradshaw remembers vividly. That's when the young lad from Wolverhampton, England — 16 years old at the time — landed in Portland en route to Lake Oswego. He was to participate in a student exchange program and spend a month with a host family while attending Lake Oswego High School.
Wolverhampton in England is a city located about 17 miles northwest of Birmingham or about 75 miles south of Manchester.
In the 1980s, a student exchange program between Highfields School in Wolverhampton and Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools was alive and well. As best as Steve recalls, the program was called the Lake Oswego-Highfields Student Exchange Program and alternated locations. Beginning in 1980, approximately 30 students from Wolverhampton attended one of two Lake Oswego high schools for a month and lived with host families. The next year, in 1981, a similar number of students from Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools attended Highfields School in Wolverhampton and were hosted by local families. Steve's memory is a bit fuzzy but he thinks the program ran for about eight years.
Here's what Steve shared about October 1986:
"I arrived as a fresh-faced 16-year-old, with little to no clue about what to expect from America in general and Lake Oswego in particular. Whilst my school was large and my town (now city) even larger than LO (Highfields School had 1,500+ students and Wolverhampton had 250,000+ in population), somehow LO seemed to be vast, bigger than anything I had seen before. Maybe it was because I was a third of the way around the globe from where I called home. I had travelled before to France and Bulgaria, but nothing had prepared me for this. Remember, we had no email, no mobile phones. So apart from maybe one phone call to say I had arrived safely, postcards is how my parents were kept informed. The students, teachers, and general population of LO really treated us well and made us feel welcome."
Steve went on to say: "Many friendships were formed and lives greatly influenced and enriched by this exchange. I know I am not the only student that has kept in touch with their host family. But I suspect, I am one of a very small number that feels like they have actually gained an extra family in Lake Oswego."
In September 2022, Steve flew in from the U.K. to spend two weeks with his "LO family," otherwise known as Harry, my husband, who was Steve's host parent in 1986. Steve and Harry have had a close bond since 1986. It's hard to imagine that 36 years later, that bond has further solidified and strengthened. Today, Steve owns a successful technology business headquartered in the U.K. and travels internationally, and Harry is a retired civil engineer. But the camaraderie with lots of ribbing, laughter and affection continues. Claudia, Steve's partner who accompanied him on this trip, and I watched in amusement as the two guys hung out together and caught up on the latest. Alas, our two weeks together, which included a short trip to Victoria, Canada sandwiched in between, went by too swiftly.
But I've no doubt we'll be getting together soon in the near future. For Steve is wonderful at staying in touch and making time to connect in person. He's visited several times in the past 36 years. Multnomah Falls, Timberline Lodge and Cannon Beach are obligatory stops with side trips sprinkled in between. He's brought his parents Michael and Jean with him a couple of times — delightful people, and we are so blessed to have met and know them. Likewise, we've visited him several times in the U.K. and we've vacationed together in the U.K., Ireland and Portugal. I feel fortunate to have been introduced to Steve more than 20 years ago, and appreciate the charming, caring and genuinely lovely person that he is, wicked humor and all!
I don't know if Wolverhampton and Lake Oswego still have a student exchange program but if not, know that, as far as Steve and Harry are concerned, the 1980s student exchange program was definitely a success!
Lilisa Hall is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.