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.

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