Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Sharing the story of two travelers

Cecilia Del Valle Navarro is from the picturesque town of Alcazar de San Juan, located in the Castile-La Mancha region of Central Spain. The plains of La Mancha entice one into the world of Don Quixote de La Mancha created by Miguel de Cervantes. Alcazar de San Juan is a town of windmills, castles, churches and markets steeped in a land of culture, tradition, fable and literary significance. She is from a land of considerable depth, which has defined her European character.

Cecilia is one of two students who’ve become part of our family for the summer. Seeing California through her eyes enables me to appreciate many components that I often take for granted. She is statuesque, eager, conversant, and excited about the smallest detail of American culture. America is a consuming experience; perhaps overwhelming, nevertheless Cecilia has maintained an excitement that makes her endearing. She particularly appreciates American life. “Americans are less formal, easy going and friendly,” she commented. She implied that in Spain the community takes precedence over the individual.

As a child Cecilia was engrossed in American movies depicting California. It was her dream to travel here. Hollywood, beaches, movie stars have her attention for the moment. However, she is a young woman of depth and I anticipate she will experience a deeper and more authentic realization of America.

She plans to attend graduate school in America. “Schools are more concerned about talent and there are more opportunities for students to fulfill those talents,” she said. Cecilia is interested in fashion and journalism and hopes that one day she may live in the U.S., but only temporarily.

Cecilia has stolen our hearts and through her we’ve become citizens of the world — as much a part of her culture as she is of ours. She’s like any other teenager, but with a European flair and a consummate passion for life.

Our second student, who, like Cecilia has also become a daughter to us, has a rather complex name: Sarah Meg Margaux Coco Marchand. Meg denotes the American actress and Coco is none other than Coco Channel. She is as colorful as her name.

Sarah is from Strasbourg, France, adjacent to the border of Germany. Strasbourg is considered the Imperial City as it was contested by marauding hordes of invaders throughout the centuries. It is the proclaimed European capital of Christmas, has the largest Christmas market, the Christkindelsarik, 431 years strong, and lavishly decorates its entire city with lights and pageantry. “I am very proud of my city. People come from all over Europe come to experience Christmas in Strasbourg,” Sarah commented.

Sarah is a radiant French girl, fair, soft-spoken, with deep-set blue eyes, and a mild disposition. I sense she is a young lady of substance and depth. She carries her own mythology, an intriguing and alluring French accent. I’d pay her a buck just to hear her say, “Dr. Joe!”

She is a student at Doctrine Chretienne High School. She enjoys studying English and economics. Sarah is a cheerleader, participating in club cheer and has won numerous awards. After graduation, she plans to attend college to study fashion merchandising or perhaps public relations. She appreciates the fact that American teens can drive and work at age 16, versus 18 in France.

“America is a place where dreams come true,” she exclaimed. Although her perspective has waned since coming to America, she emphatically stressed, “The U.S. has more opportunity for people than in France.”

I asked her what France is known best for. “Fashion! Food! Language! French is expressive and romantic,” she said. “Being from France is eloquent.”

Her assumption must be true because Sarah is a classy young lady.

Comprehending the depth of culture and fable of Cecilia and Sarah’s respective homelands is overwhelming. They are embedded in history; Americans in philosophy. They are remarkable young women. I, along with my wife, Kaitzer and our daughters Sabine and Simone, considered each moment with them a treasure.


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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