A Dream Exchange

When I was asked to write about our exchange experience, I said I could write a book!! My husband and I always thought it would be fun to host an exchange student. I went to a very small rural high school 18 miles from us, and I remember several exchange students there while I attended. My husband, on several occasions, talked about “how fun it would be someday.”

louis3It was a busy day for me at work last August. My husband’s cousin, who has successfully hosted before, was calling me for the second time about the balloons she was getting for her exchange student’s arrival from Denmark. As she went on and on about all the girls that were coming to our community through Aspect exchange, I simply said “doesn’t anybody want a boy?” My house is at any given time, usually weekends, overrun by teenage boys.

She told me right then and there about a German student who was looking for a home and my reply was…”Whose house is more perfect for a teenage boy that loves sports?” My youngest son graduated last year from high school and has many good friends still enrolled. He was also present when I casually told my husband that there was a German boy in need of a host family who liked sports and was looking for a “fun” American family.  My son immediately said “I want him!” as my husband reached for the phone to call his cousin to find out who to call. That night at 7 pm, our Aspect coordinator came to our home and we had Louis 5 or 6 days later. We all got more than we bargained for!

It was obviously meant to be. It was a long day at work waiting to drive to the airport to get him. His flight was an hour late and deboarding was another 45 minutes. I was so exhausted physically and mentally.  We just wanted this boy! Everyone was so excited. Then my daughter said, “There he is!” This tall boy saw us and broke out in the biggest smile and shot his long arm up and waved. He gave me a big squeeze when he hugged me: love at first sight. I knew we had made the right decision; we had been given something very special.

louis4It has been so rewarding and overwhelming at times to see how much success Louis has had in our school. He has many friends. Everyone notices his persistent smiles and laughter. He is a friendly, thoughtful boy. Many teachers, coaches, and students will miss him greatly and will talk about him for a long time. Because of his love of sports and soccer background, he joined the football team – the first kicker our team has had. Our team wasn’t exactly close to making playoffs, but Louis made 2nd team All Conference kicker in our Prairie Land Conference.  Louis also LOVES basketball. We promised we would take him to an NBA game and we did; and of course, to see our favorite team the Iowa Hawkeyes!

It was his season with our school basketball team that meant the most. It was the most fun watching him get better every week. He didn’t see a lot of playing time, but when he did he always made something happen! I got most of it on iPhone video. He scored the last basket of the season during our final regional game. He also got the loudest ovation during senior night I’ve ever heard in our gym. I’ve been introduced 4 times on that floor with my kids and I’ve never heard anything like the crowd cheer when his name was announced. Coach couldn’t get to him fast enough to hug him before we walked out with him. Coaches don’t usually do that. It’s parent/player night. Louis’s enthusiasm for the sport, his hard work, and dedication to his team won’t soon be forgotten.

We’ve had so much fun with this boy. We don’t talk about him leaving, but his family is coming at the end of the year to meet us all and travel with us. We are all excited and I know it will be easier seeing him leave with his family. They won’t believe how much he has grown and changed! We have had some good talks when I drive him home from his sporting events. We usually eat somewhere with another teammate and their parents. I don’t take a minute of it for granted. I know he doesn’t either. He could put his ear buds in and “sleep” the whole way home. Lucky for me, he plays his music for me to enjoy. The German rap is the best. Always an education one never expects.

It was on one of these trips home that we covered a wide range of serious topics. I was surprised and pleased when he said he mentioned to his parents about hosting an exchange student when he gets home. He assures me that we are an awesome host family and shouldn’t hesitate to host again. He has started a wall of fame in our house — his basketball picture on the top, and our future students to follow beneath.

louis1Louis has thrived here. He wasn’t expecting the large extended family we provided, or the Italian cousin he met in January when my in-laws chose to accept an exchange student. When he first came, several family members voiced excitement for hosting another student next year. I was interested also, but it was hard to wrap my head around thinking of letting this precious boy go home. I had to remind myself why he is here and what it is all about. When we chose our next exchange student, Louis was the first to read the application letters. I explained to him that as much as I wanted to keep him forever, I have had the greatest joy in watching him live out his dream adventure in America.

It has been the most amazing experience with him in our home. I can’t imagine it without him here. When he first came, I felt badly for his mother who sent him half way around the world to live with total strangers and miss one of the most important years of his life. She said he has to have his own adventures. She is right. It is all about his adventure. He says he’ll be back…..on his first break. I hope!  It will certainly break our hearts wide open to send him home. It crosses my mind everyday, but I don’t dwell on it because it takes away the joy of having him with us everyday.

I encourage anyone who has ever contemplated hosting a student to look into it. Keep in mind that the information is all there for you read. Read carefully! It is your responsibility to provide not just a house and 3 meals a day, but a family and opportunities to fulfill their dreams. It is all about the students. The surprise bonus comes when you find out that your dreams can come true too. I say you can’t have too much family. We gained not only another son, but his family too, and I can’t wait to meet them. What a fantastic gift they sent us!

                                                                                                                                         — Proud host mom Teresa in Illinois