For one family, The Experiment in International Living was also The Experiment in International Loving

December 19, 2022  |  By Eric House

Each year since 1932, The Experiment in International Living has sent high school students abroad to gain a deeper understanding of the world. This immersive experience often leads to life-long connections. This was the case for the Almarez siblings, but The Experiment would also lead to love.

It all started with Esther Almarez in the early 1960s. Originally from Mexico, she enjoyed taking English language classes to expand her skills. Through her studies, she learned about The Experiment and embarked on her first trip to the United States, followed by a second trip to Germany.

While staying with her host family in Bramberg, Germany, she bonded with the host family’s son Danny and stayed in touch with him after she returned home, exchanging letters and visits. The rest is history: they fell in love, married, and started a family.

Esther and Danny met while on The Experiment, and would later be married for over 50 years.

While unexpected, their Experiment love connection wouldn’t be the last one in the Almarez family.

Love was not on Olivia Almarez’s mind when she did The Experiment in Siena, Italy, in 1964. But just like her older sister Esther’s experience, Olivia’s Experiment trip would significantly change her life’s trajectory.

“It was the excitement of knowing other countries, other cultures, and I found the idea of living with the family of that country so exciting,” Olivia explained why she was originally drawn to the program. “It was really a way of not just knowing the country, but the people, their culture, their way of living. I found it so exciting, and I was by no means disappointed. I was very lucky to have very good host families.”

She had many host families in one Experiment trip, not only in Siena but in Brussels and Istanbul where she took excursion trips as part of her experience. It was an experience of a lifetime that included attending a youth leadership summit in Athens, Greece, as her group’s representative from Mexico. It was there that she would meet Torbjørn Rasmussen, an Experimenter from Denmark.

They enjoyed getting to know each other through the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can occur while on The Experiment with your fellow peers—like attending the royal wedding of King Constantine II of Greece and Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens!

Olivia had to do a bit of convincing to get Torbjørn to attend though. Despite being from Denmark, “Torbjørn was not very enthusiastic. And I was of course quite indignant because, I mean, she was his princess.” Ultimately, he obliged and attended, forging a lasting memory that she described as a “fantastic experience.”

From left to right: Olivia and Torbjørn, Esther and Danny, and Torbjørn’s mother Hjørdis at her house near Copenhagen, Denmark.

After completing her Experiment trip, Olivia decided to head from Greece to Germany to live with her sister Esther’s former host family who, by now, were her in-laws. “When Torbjørn and I separated in Greece, he didn’t ask me for my address,” she said. “So, I was quite disappointed, but I was too proud to tell him that.”

But to Olivia’s surprise and delight, Torbjørn wrote to The Experiment in Mexico asking for her address, sparking their connection once more through letters. This time, it was serious: Olivia would head to Denmark to live with Torbjørn and his family for the summer of 1965. That included Torbjørn’s brother Gorm—another Experimenter—and his parents, who often served as Experiment host parents themselves.

As these connections grew, so did Olivia’s love—for Torbjørn, his family, and even Denmark. “I fell in love with Denmark at the very first sight. I mean, I just love it,” she said, not knowing just yet what the future would hold there. She established a strong bond with Torbjørn’s parents, even inviting them to stay with her and her family in Mexico. They visited Olivia’s home country for two weeks, enjoying their own cultural immersion across the globe.

Torbjørn then came to visit for Christmas, and it wasn’t long after that he proposed. Off she went to live in Denmark, where she found a job, learned the language, and just like her sister, married someone she met through The Experiment. An early friendship that involved a royal wedding resulted in their own wedding—and a marriage of 54 years that spanned both Denmark and Mexico.

Olivia and Torbjørn, who met on The Experiment, on the day of their engagement. They would be married for 54 years.

The coincidence that they both met their husbands through The Experiment was not lost on Olivia and Esther. They would jokingly refer to it as the “experiment in international loving.”

Reflecting upon her Experiment trip, Olivia firmly believes that it changed her life.

“My life would have never been the same without this experience,” she said. “The very fact that I met my husband through The Experiment, of course, changed my whole life.”

Olivia and Torbjørn’s connection to The Experiment didn’t end with their marriage. Their daughter Astrid went on a trip to Quebec in the summer of 1985. At that same time, their nieces Patricia and Laura were Experimenters too. Their father Eduardo, the brother of Olivia and Esther, had followed Esther’s lead decades prior and traveled from Mexico to Vermont to advance his own English language skills with The Experiment. While he didn’t end up falling in love on the trip, he did inspire his own daughters to do The Experiment just like Astrid.

“We taught our children the importance of being in contact with other people from other countries, learning their language, being open to other minds, other ways of thinking…I think that makes a big difference in your whole life,” she said.

These values are evident throughout the entire family tree, from Esther and Eduardo’s families even down to Olivia’s grandson Pablo, who has traveled the world. Members of the family have all traveled far and wide, picking up different languages along the way. Olivia alone is fluent in German, Danish, English, Spanish, and Italian—just to name a few.

When asked if there are any plans for more family members to embark on The Experiment, Olivia isn’t sure, but is hopeful one of her granddaughters will when she reaches high-school age. When the time comes, Olivia thinks she could be convinced. It’s a family tradition, after all.

Note: This blog represents how participants of The Experiment in International Living do so through programs administered by Experiment offices around the globe. Many of these offices have been and are members of the Federation EIL, a member organization consisting of independent NGOs located around the world.