Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student is a Life Lasting Experience and Memory
“Hosting a foreign exchange student means opening your home (and your heart) to a teen from another country.”
You will hear or read a phrase like this every time you touch the subject of hosting a student from abroad. Until you really get to do it (I mean hosting a foreign exchange student) you can’t fully understand how right this expression is! I would say that any kind of hosting (be this a foster child, a friend coming for a several days visit or a family member going to stay with you for a while) involves the best hosting abilities from you. Hosting a teen from another country is more challenging though, because of diversity of cultures, different language and the fact that for many exchange students it will be the first time going so far away from home, or first time flying overseas. This puts on you as a host family a huge responsibility. You will be like an ambassador representing your country and it is your task to make it work so that a foreigner will trust and accept your country and your culture as a positive experience.
It really doesn’t matter if you are a single-parent family, a retired couple, a family with very young children or with teenagers; if you are ready to open your home and your heart to a foreign exchange student you may have a successful hosting experience. The most important thing for a host family is a genuine desire and readyness to share the American culture with a foreign teenager and a genuine interest in the well-being of the student.
During the time the student stays with you, you should treat him (or her) exactly as you would your own children. They should share the regular family chores, you will share the ups and downs of your everyday life, and by the time he leaves, he will become a part of the very fabric of your family.
Being a multicultural family ourselves, we decided that it will be beneficiary to try hosting a foreign exchange student. We had our experience of hosting an exchange student through a high school foreign echange program in 2005 (after my son’s junior year at High school) and in 2007 when the same boy came to visit us on his own, as a private visitor! With a kind permission of Reuven, Alberto and Alberto’s mother I want to share our experience with you.
My son always wanted to have an exchange student in our house. Reuven’s best friend’s family used to host a boy from Spain every summer and Reuven was spending a lot of time with them too. In 2005, after we moved from our tiny mobile country home to a nice three-bedroom house in town, I told him that he might apply for a hosting an exchange student thought his school’s program. There is a little precaution in hosting business. If you made up your mind to host an exchange student, it will be safer to go through a trusted source, like your local school and never go through a company that you found on the net, unless you personally know people who used their services.
Reuven’s school had a long and successful experience of bringing teenagers from Europe and South America to our small truly American town . The school’s foreign languages teachers are devoted to making this experience the best and they organize every bit of it thoughtfully and make it easier for a host family to go though the process. Since Reuven was studying the Spanish language at school, we asked for a boy from Spain. Reuven was given a scanned list with kid’s pictures and their names. The scan was very dark and you didn’t see any faces at all. I trust it on my son’s genuine gift of sensing good people that he picked up a boy in a “spider-man” T-shirt (the only thing you could tell on that scanned picture was a spider-net pattern on a shirt). Later we found out that is was just a spider, not a “spider-man” T-shirt, but then my son got hooked-up on this shirt. He considered that if a 17 year-old was wearing a spider-man T-shirt, a good chance that he was as goofy as a kid, exactly my son’s type! It was Bingo! Later we saw that Reuven and Alberto clicked together from the first moment in the airport where we came to pick up our guest. But first, we got from the school the boy’s address (to exchange a letter with his family before he comes) and a Spanish teacher (senora W.) came to our house for a check. You don’t have to provide a separate bed-room for an exchange student, but it is a must to have a separate bed for him. Actually, we had a spare room for Alberto. Senora told us what we should expect from a student and what our responsibilities were. An exchange student was supposed to be like a regular member of our family, it was okay to give him chores, like cleaning his room and washing dishes after a meal in turn with my son, or to mow a lawn. We had to provide for him food at home and take him with us to any places or parties we go. When we eat out as a family, we had to pay for him as for a family member, but when the boys eat alone in McDonald’s, or Subway, or any place like that, they were supposed to pay each their own bill, also tickets for attractions or performances, if they went to any, were to be paid separately. Also, an exchange student was responsible for his telephone bill and usually all students were warned to bring with them a pre-paid telephone card. The host family in America didn't get any money as a payment for hosting a student (unlike in England, whereas I know, a host family is paid for this), so it was a totally free will and genuine desire to do this. Since we were first time hosts, we had to have references. It was a serious check, not for a “checked” sign, but for real. We passed and started getting ready for our first foreign “brother” and “son”.
It was first time....
First time experiences that will last for life.
Before we met our boy we read his characteristics from an agency, exchanged letters with him and his family, we talked with them by phone. Alberto was a 17 year old, who loved to hike with his family, go swimming and surfing. He had both parents and a brother. My son was the only child and most of his life he spent without father. He was exited to have a brother and we both were positively tuned that everything was going to be just perfect.
When we saw Alberto’s wide smile on a good-natured face we knew that he was a perfect fit for our family. He was very affectionate with me and my mother, also with my mother-in-law; he was asking lots of questions and also telling us a lot about his life in Spain. He knew English pretty well and at the end of his stay was talking almost like an American. We loved his cute accent. He was sincerely eager to embrace a new culture, to try new things, to meet new people. He was grateful for every little thing we were doing for him. It was a pleasure to cook for him, as he was giving me lots of compliments about my cooking. You could see his appreciation of everything we were doing for him, nothing was taken for granted by him. If there were some little problems that people encounter in a family in every day life, we were able to negotiate them and figure out the best way to deal with it.
We consider that we were blessed with this boy and I should give a full credit to Alberto’s family for the way he was brought up. I am sure his parents were a real life-model for him and his younger brother. We still keep in touch with his mother through e-mailing each other.
I was working that summer first shift, and at 2 p.m. I was already home; Reuven had a part-time summer job in a restaurant a couple of days a week. We utilized every minute to keep Alberto busy. This is what we managed to do that happy July of 2005-
*went for some graduation party; *visited all my in-laws; *swam in lakes and swimming pools; *the boys fixed and painted a loft in a back-yard shed for their shack; *made bun-fires often; *played lots of sports; *went to Noah’s Arc Water park in Wisconsin Dells with other exchange students and Senora W; *saw a Blackhawk Helicopter inside and out; *went to a farm to pick up strawberries; *went camping and to a cabin with our friends; *watched tractor pulls and lawn-mower races; *took part in 4th of July celebrations; *taught Alberto to play football (American football); *went shopping in the malls, Mall of America included; *attended a car show in Appleton, WI; *went to a country fair in Chippewa Falls, WI; *attended Wisconsin Woodchucksgame; *visited Amish families and much more. Total fun with educational ground.
Alberto said that in America he had to do a lot of things for the first time.
Deal or not Deal?
They bet, they goofed, they found a way out
Alberto didn’t like soda very much. Reuven’s preference was soda. One day Alberto challenged Reuven and they made a bet. If Reuven didn’t drink soda for a week, Alberto was supposed to dress up as a girl and run around the block. If Reuven took even a sip of soda, then he was supposed to run around the block dressed as a girl. Reuven didn’t drink soda at all that week, so one day Alberto cheated and while Reuven was in a restroom in Subway, he switched the cups, taking Reuven's water and putting his soda in front of Reuven's sandwich. Reuven didn’t expect this and he took a drink. Reuven didn't get mad at Alberto, they just laught about it and found a compromise. The deal was to test Reuven's will power. If it were not for Alberto cheating, Reuven would win the bet and Alberto would have to run dressed as a girl. But technically Reuven lost the deal, as he did drink soda, so he was to dress and run. They decided to dress and run together, both of them. They chose an early Sunday morning for the run, as at this time our block is soulless. I suggested that I should call the local TV Company to cover an event, but it was dismissed. We went to check my wardrobe. I have tons of jeans and capris. I had only one skirt, one velvet “little black dress” and one home gown. They grabbed the gowns, changed and took the craziest run around the block. After this they felt so comfortable in their outfit, that they drove to another family with an exchange student and told that today was a Vice-Versa-Day and all students had to dress like this. It almost worked. Almost, as that house didn’t have dresses in Mom’s closet.
Both Reuven and Alberto were writing a journal (diary) through all the days. On the last day they wrote in each other journals Farewell notes.
from Alberto's journal (what Reuven wrote to Alberto)
Alberto, words can't describe what i'm feeling right now. the past month with you was amazing. when I first decided to have an exchange student, I wanted to have a good time, I wanted a friend,and I wanted a student who will get along with me...I think I failed.Instead of a good time, I had a total blast. Instead of a friend, I got a brother. Instead of someone who will get along with me, I found someone I can have a lifelong friendship with. This is very hard for me. I don't like saying goodbye so I have to think of this as a break. I have to think that it's only going to be a year and we will have so much fun again. I know that you are going to miss me, because I'm going to miss you like hell. Alberto, you are such an awesome person. You have so much going for you in the future. I know you will be the best in whatever you do. Spending this last month with you was truly an awesome experience. I had so much fun and I learned so much from you. There is a saying that goes like this: "people come and people go, but the really important ones stay close to your heart"- you are one of these people. You will always be my brother, no matter how far away we are. It's going to be impossible for me to forget you and I hope you feel the same for me. I know that it's going to be easy to keep in touch in the beginning, but the real test is if we can keep in touch all year. I promise to e-mail you every week, if not more. I will tell you about everything that's going on in my life, because that's what real brothers do. I have to try to keep this short so I don't start crying. This place is not going to be the same without you. Again, this month with you was more than I ever thought this will be. I know I will see you next year. Take care. I love you bro
from Reuven's journal (from what Alberto wrote to Reuven)
Reuven, when you start reading this I will be flying to Spain. I am sad, because I am going to miss you, your mother, the dogs Brandy and Shoko......but I like to think that this is not the end of our history, I know that we are going to meet again. I have had a lot of fun with you, I can't ask for more, because it has been PERFECT! It just has been too short!.......Now you can never say that you don't have a brother, because I will be your brother always.......This is a trip that I am not going to forget in all my life.........I just wish it would be longer.......I will always remember the things we have done together, brother.......
Now, Vera, you've been like a mother for me, and you are!!! You are my American/Jewish/Russian mother!!!
I love you, FAMILY!!!!!
It's hard to say Good Bye...
It was our first experience of hosting an exchange student. It was so good that we were not sure if we wanted to repeat it next summer, as it seemed almost impossible that the next student could be as a perfect match as Alberto was. I think we got involved emotionally too much in this experience and this prevented us from doing it again so shortly.
Alberto came back to stay with us for a month in July of 2007, this time on his own. It was a great experience again and it was even more challenging as for two weeks the boys stayed at home alone, as I went to Israel to visit my mother. I left tons of warning notes for them, glued all over the house, like “This a PING-pong table, NOT BEER-pong table!”, or “Any food leftovers more that 3 days old go to garbage out of refrigerator!”, or “No more than 3 kids at a time INSIDE the house!”. Also, they had to take care of a dog. To my great pleasure and to their honor they passed this exam on A+ + + + + + + +. When I came back, the house was in one piece, perfectly clean, nice smelling, all laundry done, grass mowed, the dog alive and healthy. The only surprise was a Sloppy Joe I made for them before leaving. It was supposed to last for them for two days. It was still in refrigerator. They told me that I made too much, so they were eating it all two weeks. Yeah, right…… Hardie’s and Subway kids……also KFC fans…..