Foreign Exchange Students

It’s not goodbye…

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Nicole from Italy poses for one last photo with her host family

Proms, final exams, and graduations have come and gone. Lockers have been closed for the last time and the once slightly unsure new international student has transformed into a confident bilingual “American” teenager. It’s June and that means another Academic Year in America has come to an end.

As a Local Coordinator, I am always on the look out for families who wish to serve as hosts to international students for a semester or whole academic year. I often hear, “I just don’t know if we can commit to hosting for all that time”. I completely understand the hesitancy and nerves, but I usually tell people, “As hard as this decision is now, I promise you time will fly and before you know it, you will be at the airport saying See you Later!”

I learned not to say “goodbye” a long time ago. Goodbye is way too final, and painful.I advise families and students to re-phrase their last moments as  “See you later”.

The truly difficult part of letting your international son or daughter return home isn’t the tear wrenching last hugs at the airport, but a deeper sadness that gnaws at your heart because you aren’t quite sure when the next hug will come. It is a dropping-your-first-child-off-at-college-level of grief that eases just a bit each time you host again.

It is no small thing to welcome a teenaged stranger into your home and family. Host families make meals, help with homework, attend sporting events, concerts, plays, and parent/teacher conferences. Host siblings learn to share their parents attention, but also their secrets with a new brother or sister. The rhythm of family life expands and conforms to its newest member and before you realize it, no one can imagine life without the other. The love and bond between students and families are real, meaningful, and long-lasting.

These past few weeks have been filled with parties: celebrations of host families and exchange students. Favorite foods have been served, gifts exchanged and lots of photos taken. Discussions of “how will we fit all of this stuff into your suitcase” and the mysterious magic of vacuum bags have filled our conversations. We have spent the final days of our exchange experiences in celebration, not sadness.

Holding on to this spirit, we go to the airport, that same airport we stood in nervously 5 or 10 months prior, ready to meet each other face-to-face for the first time. This time, our nerves are focused on whether the bag will weigh less than 50 pounds and the fear of losing our battle of holding back the flood of tears that threatens to burst forth at any moment.

We take one last photo, exchange one last hug, watch our son or daughter walk to the TSA agent and say, “See you Later”!

Visit our YouTube Channel for more real life hosting adventures

 

Foreign Exchange Students

Meet my Brazilian”son”, Gabriel

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Gabriel with his American “Mom”

Gabriel came from Recife, Brazil to live with our family in early August, 2013. His English was still developing, but his giant smile and immediate embrace of each one of us at the airport won over our hearts in an instant. Everything was easy from the first moment with Gabriel. There was never any doubt in our minds that he belonged in our family.

We have so many, many wonderful memories of time spent together despite the fact that we never left home beyond a restaurant visit in a neighboring city. Whether it was laughing together over his first meeting with the school athletic director who thought if he just yelled louder Gabriel’s understanding of English would suddenly improve, spending way too much time waiting on him while he flew around Hollister in search of the perfect clothes for school, or giggling together in the car as we asked Siri answers to stupid questions, Gabriel routinely filled every moment of our mundane life with joy and laughter.

His enthusiasm for life was infectious and his gratitude and love for us expressed every day. I joked with his local coordinator that Gabriel had no idea what “personal space” was, but we both agreed that he represented everything good, fun and lovable about Brazilian culture. He was always cool under pressure, loved and accepted everyone, and never, never found a problem worthy enough to ruin the beauty of being alive one more day.

Gabriel played on the high school soccer team, made best friends with the neighbor down the street, found about 1,000 new friends in and around his high school classes, and fell in love with his first American girlfriend during the short ten months he stayed with us. He managed to encourage his host Dad to commit to intense workouts at the gym and entertained us with his passion for ketchup on pizza and resistance to wearing a winter coat, even during the coldest months because it made him, “look like a dork”.  Gabriel introduced us to more people in our community than we had ever known before because of his infectious ability to engage everyone he met.

Gabriel very quickly took over a large part of my ever growing mother’s heart. His grandparents, who only spoke Portuguese, came to visit and travel about the USA with him at the end of his exchange year. Gabriel, interpreting for his grandfather during dinner at our house one of the last nights we were together said, “My grandpa says…..he knows I have always wanted a family with a Mom and a Dad and brothers and sisters, a big family and…he can see, being here with you, that I have found my family. He says he is very thankful for you being my American family”.

One of the hardest goodbyes I have ever experienced was dropping Gabriel off at the hotel room of his grandparents before they left for the rest of their tour of the US.  We both cried buckets of tears and promised over and over again we would see each other soon. That was nearly three years ago, and even though we still haven’t had the opportunity to reunite officially, our love and friendship remain strong.

I can’t imagine our family without Gabriel. I am grateful for AYA, for the opportunity to participate in hosting an exchange student, and of course for Gabriel’s family in Brazil who sent him to the USA to live out a dream and meet his American family.

Academic Year in America is currently searching for qualified host families for the 2017-2018 school year. Whether you choose to act as a Welcome family, host a semester student, or dive right in for a full academic year, I promise you, it will be an experience you will never forget.

Foreign Exchange Students, Uncategorized

Varsity Letters

This past Fall was filled with soccer. Gabriel played mostly JV soccer for his high school team, and my daughter, Micah, played soccer for her private all girls high school team. Having two high school soccer players in the house required strict attention to schedules and a balancing act of managing rides, soccer Mom duties, and tending to the needs of non-soccer playing siblings that would send most corporate CEO cowering into a corner. We were busy.

The best part of the soccer season, however, occurred after the last game. The infamous awards night, or in my daughter’s case, soccer team banquet.

The public high school honored all of their Fall sports during one massive assembly on a Thursday evening. Name after name of scholar athlete was read, while bleachers filled with proud parents looked on. After a short break for cookies in the cafeteria, the various Fall sports teams separated into individual classrooms for sport specific awards; speeches from coaches, and individual recognition. Gabriel’s team returned to the gym.

To our surprise, Gabriel’s coach spoke briefly about each “Senior” recognizing him within this select group. Kind words were exchanged and Gabriel received a Varsity School Letter, pin, and a special Senior gift. He was thrilled and we were too. 

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Gabriel earned his “W” Varsity letter

Micah’s banquet was equally rewarding. After three years of playing on her school’s soccer team, and a bit of high school athletic politics, she received her Varsity letter. For Micah, this meant the ability to purchase a Varsity letter (woman) jacket, valuable cultural capital at her school. It was a sweet victory earned through patience, persistence and fortitude.

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Micah and her letter (woman) jacket.

It was a busy soccer season, but the effort was worth it. Two high school soccer players, two varsity letters, two varsity letter jackets. American high school culture at its best.

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WHS Varsity Letterman jacket—oh yeah!