Annette and her husband Max wavered for years about making the decision to host an exchange student. It never felt like the right time. After finally deciding that there was no “right time,” Annette and Max took in Esther, an Aspect student from Germany. Annette was kind enough to speak with us about her experience becoming a host parent, welcoming Esther into her home and growing together as a family. To learn more about becoming a host family, visit our website.
Making the Decision
Honestly, at first I was convinced that our life was too hectic to host a student. We had way too much going on, family members were sick, and I just thought things wouldn’t work out. When an old high school friend of mine, Sherri, wrote on Facebook about hosting a student through Aspect I reached out to her. Even after talking to her, though, I didn’t think we had the time. Well, Sherri reached out to us again and again over the next year. There was still too much going on! My husband was convinced we would be too busy. Finally, Sherri asked me to really think about hosting. She told us, “busy families and living life is what makes it fun for the students!” The next day, I saw that my cousin, Mindy, was also hosting a student through Aspect. I wrote her a message, telling her that I was interested but that I was afraid, afraid that I would be too busy. Mindy wrote me back, talking about her own experiences, and she even sent me a video of one of her students. Mindy knew Sherri and trusted her, and said that we should give it a shot.
After reaching out to Sherri about hosting, Sherri said she knew the the “perfect” match for our family. Sherri said to just read her letter and then make a final decision. So I sat down with my husband and the two of us read this letter about a young girl from Germany expressing her desire to attend school in the United States and she wrote about her love of Math and Science. We liked her and the two of us got more interested and read more. We clicked on her picture and I said to my husband, “Oh my, she looks like she could be one of ours!” I felt warmness and a connection immediately and thus began the series of filling out forms and information.
I should add that when my husband and I were deciding when to host, our “extra bedroom” was full of boxes and stuff left behind by our grown children. I told Sherri there was no way we could get the room ready that week! I told Sherri that our family would just have to wait until another time. Sherri called me and asked if we could have the room cleared out by the time Esther was expected to arrive. I said we could, so she said, “Clear out the floor and the bed now, and clean out the closet before Esther arrives!” I might add that when push came to shove Sherri did a great job!!! She is very determined and I believe I needed a shove to even consider doing this type of thing.
I felt the responsibility to take care of Esther from the moment I saw her photo. When her parents let me know that she had arrived to the United States, but that her flight from New York to Dallas was having trouble, I wanted to hop in the car right then and get her! It was funny how the mama bear in me kicked in. It’s amazing how much the heart can love and accept and grow.
Our first smile and laugh with Esther happened as soon as we got to the car! We have a big Honda Odyssey minivan, and Esther couldn’t believe the size of the vehicle. Our automatic side doors close with the push of a button, and as Esther pushed the button, the look on her face was priceless! She was completely in awe. The whole way home, she couldn’t believe how big everything was: the semi-trucks, the wide roads. Even months later, Esther would say, “Everything is big in America! The cars, trucks, roads, the milk, the orange juice, the houses and even the refrigerators are big!”
Our family has 8 children, so poor Esther was exposed to almost all of us within her first few weeks in America! She fit in right away and was so eager to try to learn new things. Esther ate our foods and even tried things our own children wouldn’t have eaten! She helped my youngest daughter, Dianne, when she was frustrated with a situation at school. Dianne disagreed with a teacher’s decision about participating in school activities. Esther took Diane aside when they got home and said, “To some people, what they do and what they are thinking is their whole world. But you and I are learning to see the whole world and what you are doing is right and I support you!” This gave my daughter the courage to meet with the principal and explain why she felt she should be able to participate in extra activities.
As parents, we’ve seen Dianne and Esther push one another to succeed. They’ve helped support each other, and they’ve watched one another excel, just like true sisters do. We call Esther “The Littlest Sister” and my kids love and admire her – and tease her! – just like family. She’s also a part of my extended family, who have loved and accepted her from the very beginning. I can honestly say we have not had one issue or problem which couldn’t be solved by simple communication.
Life in America
It was pretty funny learning about one another’s customs, especially at the beginning. We noticed right away that Esther kept her elbows on the table at dinner every night, which we thought was rude and lazy. Esther was shocked, because in Germany it would be very rude to keep your hands where no one can see! We laughed so hard when we realized that we were each thinking the same thing about one another’s traditions! Another misunderstanding was when Grandpa John got a haircut and said he “got his ears lowered” – the look on Esther’s face! She didn’t know what Grandpa John meant and was imagining something terrible!
We loved helping Esther get to know our cows and horses. We have a neighbor who uses horses for therapy, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have both my daughter and Esther as part of a test group. The girls have had a great time learning to groom, lead and ride the horses.
Esther’s a terrific student, and it’s amazing to attend student teacher conferences and realize that, despite all of the adventures we’ve been having together, she’s getting straight As! Esther is learning Spanish here, and now she sings songs in Spanish to my grandchildren so she can practice. It’s so special to see how our little ones react. Esther was also determined to be part of the girls basketball team, which was very exciting for me because I love basketball and finally had a child of my own to watch from the stands! Esther needed a lot of work in the beginning, and I had to help her develop some skills, but she hustled so hard and she was so dedicated to her team. Joining the basketball team helped Esther make friends and she’s so sad that the season is coming to an end. Esther didn’t just get involved in basketball, either: she made the tennis team, she joined band, she helped the science classes fundraise for a class trip, and she goes to all the school events: bonfires, assemblies, and of course Homecoming!
I love sharing the holidays with Esther. She spent Thanksgiving with our family in Utah, where she made pierogis for all of us and tried our traditional foods. Of course, Esther had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, so this was really fun. At Christmas, we took Esther to meet my cousin Mindy (who also hosts through Aspect) and Esther was able to meet Mindy’s own student from Italy. Everyone was laughing and dancing together, and it made the world feel so much smaller. It was a wonderful experience for us to see the whole family come together.
We’ve loved meeting with the Aspect group. We got to know the other foreign exchange students while bowling, meeting up for ice cream, exchanging gifts and Christmas, and sharing stories about one another’s country. It’s so fun to meet other host families and share our experiences. Everybody’s so proud. “This one’s mine!” It’s such a great feeling of love and happiness.
Comfort and Love
The lady I cared for recently passed away. Before she passed, I asked Esther and my daughter to come out and spend an afternoon playing music for her. The girls visited with her, played music, danced around, and sang some songs in Polish and German which Esther had been teaching my daughter, did hand stands, and made it a really exceptional day for my sweet, 97-year old friend. It was the highlight of her week! It still brings a tear to my eyes when I think of the love and laughter those two brought her that day.
Later in the year, Esther’s own grandfather passed away and she wasn’t able to attend the funeral. Our family gathered together and offered words of comfort, and she shared her stories about visiting him and memories of their time together. We shared our stories of loss and together we cried until we laughed again. It was a special night of comfort and love.
A Whole New Light
Traveling with Esther and looking at our own little town through her eyes has helped us to see it in a whole new light. The traveling that we have done together; the people, friends and family that we have introduced her to; it’s all been a very special and grand feeling. It makes us proud to know that we live in such a diverse and beautiful area.
We took Esther to El Paso, TX to show her the lights from the city at night. We were so excited to see the lights in her eyes as she just looked and looked and looked. She had never seen lights of that magnitude before. Later that night, off in the distance, there was a tremendous lightning storm, and Esther couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Another time, we took a tour through Canyon de Chelly. Esther and my daughter Dianne got to help card the wool, eat fry bread and ride down through the canyon in a Jeep. It was amazing to watch the girls learn about Navajo culture and traditions. We had seen this place before, but we looked at it this time in a different light.
We have a renewed love for our country now, and we look at our country and customs with more of an international view. We have tried to show Esther attractions and environments which she hasn’t seen before – some of which she may never see in Germany or Europe. Having Esther here has encouraged our family to see more places and do more things than our family normally would. Learning customs, practices, recipes and ideas from Esther’s German culture has encouraged us to look at our customs. We’ve started researching why our families does the things we do, and where those ideas come from!
A Family for Life
Being a host family and being host parents has helped us discover the true happiness in life: loving a child as if they were your own. Esther and our youngest daughter are only six months apart, and I’ve been so happy to see them grown into real sisters. Esther is part of our family, and thanks to Skype, we’ve become part of her family too! We are so happy to know that our families will be able to continue this friendship for years to come. Esther is our daughter and our friend. We have opened up our hearts and our home and have been blessed beyond measure.