Foreign Exchange Students, Uncategorized

Homecoming

1186196_467365383361180_1611851314_nIt’s Homecoming weekend in our small town. Since my older children homeschooled, and my current high school aged daughter attends a private, all girls school, Gabriel is introducing our family to the local high school homecoming culture. It’s been an education for all of us.

Gabriel has caused quite a sensation at the high school with the female population. He was asked my numerous young ladies to be their date to Homecoming. He feigned ignorance until one of his favorite girls chose her moment. He accepted and reassured us that, “she is very beautiful”.  How sweet we thought. How cute.

Neither Gabriel, nor my husband and I, realized the extent of pageantry associated with the annual Homecoming dance. Apparently, the first invitation was insufficient. Gabriel was instructed by his date that he must now ask her to the dance. He described the dialogue to us one evening.

“But you asked me?”he said.

“Yes”, but you must now ask me”

“And if I do, you will say, yes?”

“Yes, but you must ask”

“O.K. Will you go with me to Homecoming?”

“No, not that way. You know. Ask cute”

Confused, Gabriel sought out the cultural experts; the Physics class. The teacher explained with a laugh, “You know Gabriel, with flowers or candy…..cute!”

 

“What is this?” he asked my husband and I.

I shook my head. I had no idea. Was he going to the Homecoming dance or getting ready to propose marriage? Was this a little over the top?

“I don’t know, Gabriel”, I admitted. “This is a culture I don’t understand either”.

My husband summed it up for him. “I guess you are learning that American girls are high maintenance”.

“Hey!” I cautioned. “Watch the stereotypes”.

Eventually we figured it out. Gabriel’s date got her “official proposal to the dance”. She provided instruction on numerous other cultural expectations for the evening. Flowers, her dress color and his subsequent tie choice, budget for the evening’s dinner, and time and location of pictures were just a few of the lessons. It was a personalized, independent study on American high school culture and dating for Gabriel; direct and complete.

It’s been an interesting cultural lesson for our entire family. You never realize how important it is to have a cultural ambassador until you try to navigate the murky waters of a high school dance. We salute Gabriel’s date for setting sail, inviting him into the boat, and making sure his voyage was smooth sailing.

Foreign Exchange Students

A One Month Anniversary

We were celebrating my daughter’s birthday with a family dinner at Olive Garden. Sitting around the table, eating pasta, salad and those amazing breadsticks, we laughed with each other, chatted about the news in our lives, and relished the unique experience of being gathered together around one table. The meal was excellent, the company even better.

As the conversation and dinner lagged, Gabriel made an announcement.

“You know, today….it is exactly one month that I have been here. It seems so fast!”

I looked at him in amazement and realized I had forgotten I hadn’t known him his whole life. It was only one month ago that I had met this young man for the first time.  One month ago, we had arrived at the airport searching for him through a sea of passengers, and hoping to recognize him from his photos. One month ago, we had drove from the airport trying to speak slowly for understanding. One month ago, we were nervous, polite and unsure of each other. Now we were “family”. Had it really been one month?

“You’re right”, I said. “It was August 15 and now it is September. Happy Anniversary!”

We reminisced about the past month. It had been good, very good, but busy. Lots of soccer practices and games, the frustrations of registering at a new school, the start of classes, crazy teachers who didn’t understand the struggles of taking a class as a non-native English speaker, catching the school bus; most of the time. So many things. So many experiences. So fast.

I usually try to remember important moments like birthdays and anniversaries, but this one caught me off guard. I’m glad we remembered, but I love that I forgot. Without our formal realization, Gabriel had become a permanent fixture in our family culture. He was not a stranger or a temporary resident in our home.  At that moment, I realized, Gabriel was family.

Foreign Exchange Students

Getting to Know John Deere

Not too long ago, my husband decided to introduce Gabriel to a good friend of his, John Deere. Being the main provider of lawn service for our family, my husband is always anxious to find a little help from unsuspecting children. Exchange students are never exempt from his tactics.

I don’t think Gabriel had been in our home more than a week, when I overheard the following conversation.

“Hey Gabriel!”

“yeah”

“Would you like to learn to drive a tractor?”

“A what?”

“Here, come outside. I’ll show you”

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Poor Gabriel.  He never stood a chance. The call of the green machine was too great.

From the look on his face, however, I think he enjoyed his lesson on lawn maintenance. I guess there must be something about a green tractor and the great outdoors that appeals to men across cultures. Go figure.

Uncategorized

Gabriel

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Gabriel is here! Our family is learning about Brazil and Brazilian culture this year as we serve as Ambassadors to Gabriel from Brazil. Gabriel is learning a lot about small town America and adjusting well to eating out (way too often), American-style soccer, and the fact we do not put ketchup on our pizza. 

We have learned we cannot pronounce many Portuguese words correctly with our clumsy American accents and that we have never been to a party, until we have been to Carnival.

It’s going to be a great year filled with warm and happy memories. 

Welcome to the USA Gabriel!!!

Foreign Exchange Students, Uncategorized

Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

Hello and welcome to my blog, “An International Family”. I chose to create this blog to chronicle our family’s experience with international student exchange.

Our family fell into hosting exchange students completely by accident. In 2006, we were a homeschool family and often received mailings directed to traditional brick and mortar schools at our home. One day a postcard sent in the mail beckoned to me saying, “Take Your Foreign Language Students to Europe!” It was such a refreshing idea, that I went to the company’s website to peruse my options and pondered how to market the idea to other homeschool families.

Then I saw it. A little button titled, “Host in the US”. I clicked and within moments I had entered my contact information and sent off an email inquiry regarding hosting an exchange student for a short three week visit.

The next day, I was called by a French teacher from a local high school who had received my contact information from the website. They were desperate for host families and “was I still interested?” Gulp. I realized I was launching into new territory, but what the heck. It was only three weeks in the summer. “Sure”, I said.

He asked me what type of student I would like to host. Trying  to appear diplomatic I said, “Ideally, a girl, but we can take a boy”. I had two teenage daughters at the time and absolutely did not want to host a boy. He promised to find a good match and would forward the student’s contact information to us as soon as possible.

Within the week, we received the notice of our match, a French boy named Guillaume. I looked at this kid’s profile and photo and wondered what I had gotten our family into.  I didn’t realize at the time we had just entered into one of the most exciting experiences of our family’s lifetime.

We picked up Guillaume at the school’s parking lot a few months later. It was mid-July and he would stay with our family for three weeks. His goal was to spend time with a typical American family to learn about typical American culture and to improve his English fluency. We were not to “entertain” him, but treat him as a member of the family.

After some formal introductions, he hopped into the front seat of our mini-van. I started the car, nervous and unsure what to say to this “new family member”. He placed his hand on the dashboard in front of him and said almost in disbelief to me, “We have this same car”. “You do?” I asked. “Yes, only green”, he answered.

There is a comfort and security in the familiar and we both smiled at each other relieved to have found common ground so quickly. Guillaume’s stay with our family was a series of “Us too!” moments. The world shrunk daily as we began to realize  we had more in common with northern France, than even some of our American neighbors. It was an exciting educational time of bonding and learning for Guillaume and our family.

Circa 2006

Three weeks passed very quickly, and before we knew it we were saying goodbyes and sharing hugs at the airport. There were many tears from everyone and we both promised to stay in touch. We held to our promises, exchanging emails, letters, photos, and Christmas gifts for years. My oldest two daughters visited his family in France the next summer. His younger brother, Pierre, and younger sister, Charlotte visited us in subsequent summers.

My daughter,  Sammi, so inspired from meeting Guillaume and his family fell in love with France and French culture. Because of our relationship with this student through a three week foreign exchange, she was able to travel independently to Europe multiple times while still in high school and experience French culture in an authentic and personal way. She later chose to major in French education in college and spent last summer studying in a college in Provence to conclude her undergraduate education. She will begin her career as a French teacher this Fall at a local high school. All of this, because we chose to say, “yes” to “can you host a student?”

Last May, I became a Local Coordinator for Academic Year in America (AYA). I am responsible for connecting host families with international students and helping them through the often murky waters of student exchange paperwork and cultural challenges. I love my work, and believe so much in the power of student exchange to change cultural expectations and stereotypes. I truly believe student exchange helps future generations along the path to world peace and unity.

Won’t you join our family and others in the adventure of a lifetime? I promise it will change you in every good way and you won’t be disappointed.