We’ve been hosting exchange students for over six years – we’re on student number seven right now.
Our first was a wonderful girl from Germany. We had a great year with her and it was simply heartbreaking to send her home at the end of her stay with us. She was frighteningly intelligent, a perfectionist in all she did, a wonderful cook and so very much at home with us that it felt she had been part of the family forever. A bit of my heart went back to Germany when she left.
Our second was a girl from China. Also a very sweet girl. Not as much fun to host, but I think a lot of that was due to cultural differences. She was a pleasure to have around when she was participating with the family, but she spent so much time in her room with the door closed that I was pretty frustrated by the time she left. It’s hard to host someone who treats your house and family like a hotel, restaurant and cab service, and that’s what it felt like a great deal of the time. Not always, but enough that the year was difficult at times.
Number three was another girl from Germany (since we’d had such good luck with the first German girl). She was also a pleasure to host. She was much quieter than both of the previous students, but had a sharp wit and we really bonded during our year together.
The next year, we hosted a sweet little gal from Italy. Perennially cheerful (except on the day she left, when we were all teary-eyed), she was a joy to host. She was a tiny little thing and nearly every time we went out to eat, she was given a kid’s menu. She carried her Italian-English dictionary around with her for quite a while – but always tried out the Italian word first when she didn’t know the English version, just in case we might know it. Of all of the students we hosted, she came with the least fluency in English. By the time she went home, however, she (like all exchange students at the end of their year) was thinking and dreaming in our language.
Since my daughter was leaving to join the service, year five we decided to host our first boy. He was a great kid, but did need a bit more attention than the other students. I think he was more used to being the center of attention at home. We have to spread ourselves a bit thinner at our house as my husband and I both work and do a lot of volunteer work with our kids. His need to be in the limelight so much was difficult at times. And we discovered that my husband has a bit more patience for girls and their idiosyncrasies than boys and theirs. Still, not a horrible year.
This brings us to last year.
Last year we chose another girl – this one from Norway. Tall, blond and simply lovely, she seemed to fit in pretty well. Oh, there were differences of opinion, but there always are. We express our opinion and are open to listening to theirs. She seemed to take offense when our opinions didn’t mesh, unlike our other students. She also didn’t enjoy being corrected, but no teenager does. All in all, we thought the year was going relatively well. She and our son got along great and we thought we were working through any issues like we always had in the past. No hosting experience is without its bumps in the road, but our suspension has been sufficient to handle them up until last year.
This post is already too darn long, so I won’t whine my way through every detail. Suffice it to say that she started complaining about us to her family, to the organization and to all of her friends in about October. Not to us, mind you, so we were clueless as to her dissatisfaction. In January, over the course of a couple of weeks, she just about quit talking to me and when I discussed it with the program head to find out if she had mentioned any problems to them, I was immediately asked if we wanted to have her moved out. Which we didn’t want to do without trying to figure out what was wrong. But our student simply refused to discuss it with us. By the time we got home from work the day after my first discussion with AFS (the program we used to host through), our student was gone.
It was a horrible experience. At every host family orientation we attended, the AFS representatives had gone over the steps that would be taken in the event of problems between a student and a family. In our case, those steps were skipped and we had no idea what was wrong. As a host family, we all put our hearts and souls into making our student’s year one they will remember forever. It was devastating to have all that thrown aside and no effort made to rectify any perceived problems. Every time I think I am finally over it, I’ll talk about our hosting experiences with someone and when I get to last year, I realize I’m still having an incredibly hard time dealing with the hurt and rejection. Not to mention the shabby way our family felt treated by AFS after we had hosted for them for so many years successfully.
We were tempted to quit hosting. But then we decided we didn’t’ want to quit on a bad note, so we’re hosting again this year. We found another exchange student program and tried to carefully pick a student we thought would fit in better than our Norwegian had.I think we succeeded. We’re hosting another girl from Germany (since we have had great luck with German girls!). She’s simply wonderful and I think this year will go down in the positive column.