Foreign Exchange Students

First Semester…. check!

The Fall semester of school was a whirlwind at our house. With two biological high school teens (A Senior cheerleader and a Freshman marching band drummer) plus a foreign exchange student teen, our calendar was full! It wasn’t until planning out this post and creating our latest video for Youtube that I realized my feeling the need to slow down time was perfectly legit.

We started the semester out strong with “First Day of School” pics for everyone.  September flew by with community service volunteering, a minor league baseball game outing, football games, marching band competitions, our oldest daughter’s 30th birthday (what?!) and our youngest daughter’s 18th!

Before we realized it, October was upon us and so were Homecoming Dances and a visit from our German “son”, David. He completed his exchange year in June, but was able to convince his parents to let him come back over Fall break to visit his former high

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David came home!

school friends and exchange family. It was truly a Homecoming week celebration in many ways for us this year!!

My Senior daughter, Sierra, began her college applications this fall too. So, in the spirit of supporting her choices, Leenah, Sierra and I visited Xavier University in Cincinnati. We really enjoyed their Open House event and of course, the outlet shopping we found along the way there. There is nothing like an all girls educational road trip to finish out a month.

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College Visit Photo Op

In November, Academic Year in America sent Sierra and I to Barcelona, Spain for their National Meeting. We managed to meet up with David and his family (once again) and also extend our trip to tour Carcassone, Arles and Nice, France. It was an amazing trip to begin the month.

*Note: I was able to bring a companion with me on this business trip for the first time. My husband was super excited, until we decided that Sierra should get to be my companion She studies French and Spanish and hopes to major in International Studies in college next year. Happy 18th Birthday, Happy Graduation….and better luck next time, John ❤ #Momanddaughtertrip

November continued with International Education Week presentations (a requirement of FLEX and KLYES scholarship students) and an enhancement activity through Hale Farm’s educational programming. The exchange students got their first taste of traditional American Thanksgiving dinner and a history lesson on the holiday from Honest Abe— such fun!

We wrapped up November with Thanksgiving dinner at our house and our annual kick-off to the Christmas season… tree lighting festivals in Akron and Cleveland. Since our student, Leenah, is Muslim, this was her first time celebrating and experiencing Christmas. She told us she wanted to “see it all!” so we made time for outdoor light displays, baking cookies, shopping, shopping, and shopping.

December is always a mad dash to Christmas break and this year was no exception. We started the month with an enhancement activity in Cleveland, Ohio with 13 exchange students, several host siblings, and host parents. We were quite a group!

We learned about American entrepreneurship through making candles at the Cleveland Candle Company, experienced the joys of American diversity through a scavenger hunt and lunch at the West Side Market, visited University Circle’s CircleFest celebration of light and art, and volunteered as Santa’s elves for the Polar Express train of the Cuyahoga Valley Railroad. And that…. was all in one day !

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Just another night at the North Pole!

December also the traditional end of semester band concerts, parties and gift exchanges but we topped off our exchange cluster’s first semester by seeing the touring Broadway shoe, “Mean Girls” at  Playhouse Square .

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Some students had dreaded Midterm exams before break and some spent their holiday from school preparing for them, but just like that… the first half of the exchange year is complete.

If you would like to get involved in hosting an exchange student for the 2020-2021 academic year, visit AYA’s website at: www.academicyear.org 

Foreign Exchange Students

Why yes! Mr. Incredible is my “son”!

The 2015-2016 school year brought two young men into our lives to live as our exchange sons, but I only refer to one as “Mr. Incredible”. Fifteen year old Javier stepped off his plane to meet our family in mid August of 2015. He was exhausted, having just spent a whirlwind four days at his orientation with Academic Year in America in New York City. My heart went out to him as we exchanged hugs to begin our year together as “family”.

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Welcome to Ohio, Javier!

I knew how tired Javier was feeling. I had served as a chaperone for the same orientation the week prior. During my week, I had the opportunity to co-chaperone a bus load of students with Bea, a representative of the Spanish partnering organization, STEP. As we chatted on the bus, she told me she knew Javier’s mother, and that she had interviewed him in Spain when he and his family came to apply for the program. She reassured me that we would love Javier. I told her I had no doubt we would, and to please tell his mother that I said “Hello!” And there you have it…international relations at work in the midst of a bus load of teenagers in NYC….one might say, incredible.

Before Javier’s arrival to the US, I had the good fortune to “chat” with his natural mother via WhatsApp. She was understandably nervous about sending her young son to the USA for a year away from his family. We connected easily by sharing photos and messages, her English as poor as my Spanish, but our mother’s love the only language required for understanding.

 

My children and I helped Javier load his suitcase into our car and drove home to meet the rest of his “family” for the next few weeks, including his fellow exchange brother, Mirko. After a brief moment to catch his breath, we rushed him off to the high school for a meeting with the guidance counselor followed by dinner at Chipotle and a trip to the mall for back to school shopping. Javier was exhausted, but we were on a mission. School would start the following week and the weekend was filled with our son Jonah’s college graduation and 21st birthday! We had to make every moment count.

Despite the hectic pace, Javier survived his first weekend with us and never blinked. He displayed his quintessential quiet and thoughtful character, and when we weren’t expecting it, displayed a clever dose of humor. He was the polar opposite of his exchange brother, but fit right into our family like he had been there from the beginning. We knew we wanted Javier to stay the entire year with us, asked him if it was ok, and when he agreed, transformed ourselves from “Welcome” family to “Permanent host family” of Mr. Incredible.

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The “Bad” Banana and Mr. Incredible

Javier’s gentle, kind, generous spirit was always a welcome relief in the midst of our often hectic, boisterous and noisy family life. He diplomatically mentioned one day that he was the designated “crepe chef” for his family at home.  If we would like, he would be happy to share his culinary skills with us. There were many, many times throughout the school year that I would take him up on his offer, Javier’s crepes bringing delicious magic to our meals.

Javier became a sort of aficionado of American cuisine. He and I explored the art of baking American chocolate chip cookies, a delicacy far removed from the dry, crusty Chips Ahoy sold in Spain. He marveled at the vast diversity of Oreo cookies for sale in US grocery stores, and so in the spirit of educational research, we embarked on a valuable market research initiative to compare and critique each variety.

We learned to rely on Javier’s companionship, as he always made time in his schedule to play ball with our family dog, video games with our youngest son, and even tag along on trips to the gym with my husband. Once, Javier drove with me on a very long 2+ hour drive to an exchange student’s home to conduct a “mediation” meeting between the family and student. He helped distract me from the problems that ensued with a sympathetic ear and laughter. Javier had a way of helping all of us remain calm and focus on the simple, good things in life like cheeseburgers, burritos, cookies….and a family’s love.

Javier kept us up to date on news of his family in Spain and translated messages to and from his Mother for me. During his stay we not only got to know him, but his entire family. We learned of his Dad’s love of Star Wars and his mother’s love of taking long walks every day for exercise. He helped me perfect a recipe for Paella and reminded me some day I would have to eat his father’s Paella. He told us so many stories of him and his brothers that we felt like we knew them too.

Javier was an adorable anomaly at his high school where girls often giggled as he passed by. While his exchange brother made a point to charm young women, Javier played it cool. I reminded him often that he was pretty much a celebrity and he would laugh at the suggestion. Once, unbeknownst to him, he was invited to a “Seniors Only” Halloween party and became a “rock star” at school the next week. How did he, a mere Sophomore, get invited to a Senior’s only party? When his parents worried about his adjustment to high school in the US, I reassured them that Javier was doing very well. He was, after all,  “Mr. Incredible”.

Javier’s family served as hosts to American college students throughout his childhood. His parents wanted their children to learn English at a young age and believed one of the best ways was to have the exchange students speak to them regularly in English. This experience helped Javier learn what it meant to be a part of a host family and gave him insight into the realities of exchange student life. During his time in the US, despite his young age, he never shied away from the multitude of challenges faced, but instead met each one with dignity, grace, courage and a smile.

Our year together passed too quickly, but our goodbye was not as bitter as years past. I knew Javier’s family had missed him terribly and could not wait to welcome him back home. I was excited for their reunion. We promised each other that our family would come to Spain to visit and began our plans to fulfill the promise during the summer of 2017.

As I work this year to encourage families to consider hosting an exchange student, I often share Javier’s story. Javier was only supposed to stay a few weeks with us until I found his permanent host family. By the end of his first weekend in our home, I knew we had found them. Who wouldn’t want to host Mr. Incredible?!

Javier
Who’s this “American” boy? Why…it’s Mr. Incredible!

To find out more about hosting as a Welcome, Semester, or Full year Host Family, visit www.academicyear.org