My Hosting Horror Story
If you've ever had a thought on hosting an exchange student or ever thought of sending your teenager abroad then you've probably heard horror stories. If you read my hub Tips On Choosing An Exchange Student or 5 Reasons You Should Find the Money to Send Your Teenager to Study Abroad then you know I'm for hosting and sending teenagers abroad. Of course there are times when these things go wrong. To be honest when things went wrong with this program it didn't do well. I shall begin.
It Was My Idea
8th grade was ending and I knew I didn't want to go to high school alone at a "sort of" new school. (That's a long story. My family lived in the town when I was in 1st grade and since it's a small town I still knew a few people there but I had never been to the high school.) After thinking about long and hard, I thought of the idea of my family hosting an exchange student.
It could have worked. Sure, my sister was now back from graduating from college but my brother was now away so his room would be empty. He never had much stuff anyway so it would be easy for someone to "move in" for a school year.
The Program and The Local Coordinator
I was sure I found a good program. They bragged they placed 100,000 students a year in the USA (something I tell people to look out for in my tips). There were many people saying how much hosting a student influenced their lives and how much they loved it and how great it was for everyone. It sounded great.
Nicki, my then local coordinator, contacted me right away. I live sort of in the middle of Maine but she lived in northern New Hampshire (another thing I tell you to look out for in my tips). Local coordinators are supposed to be local not several hundred miles away. Over e-mail she seemed nice and eager to speak with my family. We never met in person but had an interview over Skype and communicated through e-mails and phone calls.
Choosing a Student Before We Signed Up
I was looking through their student profiles and I found the "perfect student" from Sweden (a country I love so much!) for my family. My parents agreed after reading her profile. Because we hadn't signed up yet when we chose her we couldn't see too much of her profile or any pictures.
Once I signed my family up, I saw her pictures. I thought for sure her punk rocker look with black spiky hair and black eye-liner wouldn't fit in well in my conservative family. I decided not to judge on looks since her profile personality fit in so well with my family (another thing I warn you about in my tips).
The House and Our Move
As I said I was going to a new high school, in a different state than what I was living in, in 8th grade. Long story short we were renting out our house in Maine but the tenants trashed it before they left. They stole the wifi connectivity, left trash everywhere, and put head sized holes through walls (in the room our exchange student was going to sleep in!). It was a mess.
It was too late now. We had already signed up. The student knew they were coming to live with us. It would have been cruel to back out right then.
Before she showed we cleaned up the house the best we could (which was a lot, even after all our copper pipes were stolen). The exchange student's room was painted and cleaned up first. There were still some problems but it looked like she could actually live in there without it looking like a dump.
Never a Smile to be Seen
It took a while to get our Internet and phone hooked up. She arrived while we were still doing that. Every day my dad was picking up trash in the yard and in the house and taking it to the dump. So if she noticed how gross it looked she saw us cleaning it up. She knew we didn't enjoy living like that.
She came on August 22nd (2012) and the whole month she was here she never really smiled or got excited about anything. She almost never talked to me in school, (me as a freshman and her as a junior was kind of hard to see each other) and I never saw her talking to anyone else. I just thought this was a "Swedish thing" since I have heard us Americans can be over expressive I thought maybe it was normal in other countries to not be excited about anything.
The Phone Call from Nicki
Nicki called and wanted to talk to our student one day. She just happened to be out on a walk (alone, without me) so I told her to call back later.
We arranged for Nicki to come up on September 20th (2012) to meet our student in person and talk to her about how things were going with my family, the school, so on. I didn't think this was too out of the ordinary since local coordinators are supposed to at least call once a month to talk to the student about how things are. Although remember, Nicki lives several hours away by car, about 3-4 to be exact.
When Nicki pulled into the driveway, my dad noticed how brand new the car was. It was a 2012 Volvo, expensive car. She also came in with an infant who stayed calm the whole time she was in my family's home. She had also bragged about living on a ranch and owning many horses and having lots of time to go skiing and snowmobiling frequently. She asked to speak with our student alone first, so my dad made everyone stand outside in the cold fall air.
Minutes later she talked to my dad alone. I snuck inside during this time and went upstairs to the student's room (I say snuck lightly as I told my dad later and he said he didn't hear me at all, and I know I was kind of loud). I knocked on the door and asked to come in while opening the door. Our student had her bag out on the floor and was putting things into it. She told me she wanted to be alone so I left, and felt a little weird knowing she still had many months of living with us before she was going to leave...
My dad came out on the porch to get me and said our student was leaving right then and there. Apparently she had been having some problems here and Nicki was going to take her home for a while and figure out what the problems were. She said she would call maybe next Monday or Tuesday to tell us if she was going to come back. That call never came.
What went wrong?
For days I wondered what went wrong. Was it the house? That would have been a good reason. I would understand why no one would want to live in a home where we were still picking up trash from the previous tenants. Was it the school? She did live in a larger town with a bigger school, maybe it was too small or not challenging enough.
My dad discovered she left her journal behind. And a week after she left we still had no answers, no reasons for why she left. Yes I understand what I'm about to write isn't very moral or right at all. We read it. I wouldn't suggest anyone else do this but again we had no answers. What if we wanted to host again someday? We had no idea what we did wrong in order for our student to feel uncomfortable enough to leave without saying goodbye.
It was in Swedish. I didn't and still don't know enough to have read it completely and understood it. Thanks to google translate we found out. It was my parents drinking. They drink alcohol quite frequently, but nothing bad happens when this happens. They don't party out of control. They don't drive. They don't stay up all night and keep everyone up. They just drink, and then go to bed at reasonable hour.
Another thing she did wrong...
She stole the school's laptop that was assigned to her. She took it to New Hampshire with her when she left which isn't allowed in the school's policy.
We mailed her journal back. There was no need to keep it so why bother? We did get a call from Nicki demanding it, and the 250 dollars our student put in the bank up here. The school eventually got their laptop back (thank goodness too because we were not paying the 1,200 bucks for it to get replaced!).
Don't let my family's bad experience stop you from hosting. Learn from it. What did we do wrong? What didn't we research? How could we have picked a different student? Try to keep these and my other tips in mind when choosing an exchange student and program.