After raising our own two children and another eight foster children, we came across an intriguing news article. “Incoming exchange students need a good home”, it read. Apparently, there weren’t enough host families stepping up to welcome and accept these students in to their home for a school year in the United States. After talking it over with my wife, we decided to contact a local representative who had placed international students at our nearby high school. By the time the representative left our house, we had completed our application and were looking at prospective students with Aspect Foundation. That was five exchange students ago.
Because we have horses, we like to find students who have horse experience. Although the degree of experience has varied greatly from one student to the next, they have all started without having an issue with horses, cattle, dogs or cats – all of which call our home ‘home’, too.
After foster children, exchange students are a very invigorating change. They listen, show respect for other people and things, they are serious about their studies and are all around a joy to spend time with. Our students have ranged from Columbia to Norway, and each share with us a distinctly unique prospective about school and life in Europe, Scandinavia, South America. We try to be open and candid in our conversations, covering diverse and expansive topics. It is nothing short of fascinating to learn about their respective views on how their own country’s government operates, especially compared to ours – all the way from local politics to federal level. It is fun to see their reaction to various church services as we offer to take them to a Catholic, traditional Protestant, contemporary Christian, or an ethnic Baptist service if they are interested. If not, we go to our normal contemporary service and if they wish to join us, they may. And if not, that’s just fine too! Most typically though, we find a curious interest from our students to get a grasp of different services available, and a desire to spend that time with us.
Our first student’s parents came to visit at the end of the school year, staying with us for several days before continuing on a tour of the Western U.S. Since then, we have met that family three times in Florida – each time, renting a house on the beach together to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving with our current exchange student. We spend a revitalizing week on the beach with our old friends and our new student, as they each get to see yet another aspect of the United States, alongside exposure to a third culture right there in our guest home.
Four of our five students will be in contact with us for the rest of our lives, I think. The fifth was a wonderful student and enjoyed her time here tremendously, although she hasn’t responded to us since departure. We don’t know why – but based on her Facebook postings at least, we know she is ok. While it saddens us because we don’t understand, we consider four out of five home runs to be a pretty good batting average.
Getting to see our own country – the United States – through another person’s eyes and perspective is something I cannot even begin to describe. It gives me pride, it gives me peace, it gives me a warm heart and it opens my perceptions. Observing the transformation of our students over their exchange year is incredible. From watching them struggle to form complete sentences on their arrival to nine months later – watching them differentiate and vary their conversations from other kids as they stand together, socializing as old friends – is a momentous and endlessly uplifting transition to observe taking place.
Saying goodbye is the tough part, as it is hard to do without tears. But the sadness only lasts until you get the e-mail or phone call saying “Thank you for being my family last year……. I’m trying to figure out when I will be coming back to visit.”
Written by John from Illinois