Put 16 Foreign Exchange Students and their Host families in one home and what do you get? A great multi-cultural night, meeting new people, who have something very special in common… we all have a TEENAGER — from another country — living with us 24/7 for the school year!
The Event was a BBQ and Pool party on Saturday at a home in Peoria, a suburb of Phoenix. The Event also served as an Orientation to go over some do’s and don’ts of being an Exchange Student and Hosting one… and for everyone to meet.
There were 16 Students from 8 countries including Germany, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Viet Nam and Denmark. Our student, Lara, knew a couple of girls from previous Orientations. Can you imagine seeing a friend from your home country and having just a few minutes to have a normal conversation in your natural language??? Pretty tempting, I would imagine. Well, Lara and another girl took advantage of the opportunity until Lisa, the Aspect Foundation Area Coordinator, caught them. She told them, “English only”. Then she went to the pool where other students were and yelled out to them, “English only, Remember… English only.” The parents got a kick out of that!
Lisa is quite the spirited woman! She coordinates 17 Host Families and Students in the area. What a task considering she must talk to each Parent and each Student at least once a month! Let’s see… that’s 34 people in 30 days. Oh yeah… AND she has a full time job AND her own children AND a Foreign Exchange Student! She really MUST love doing this!
In our Orientation, Lisa told the Host Families and Students how special both of them are. She told the students, “These families already love you! Otherwise… why in the world would they let a Teenager, who they never met, come to stay with them!” That got quite a laugh from the Parents! She also told them to be appreciative… for the same exact reason.
She also praised the Students, telling them they’ve done an amazing thing in their life by leaving their country, their friends, their family… and move in with complete strangers who will take care of them for 9 months!
To the Families, listen said, “You have a huge responsibility, caring for another child who is half way around the world from their home and family.” But she also told us, “Don’t treat them like strangers. Treat them like one of your kids. Give them chores. And let ME know if they don’t listen.” Again… there was a chuckle from the Parents. You could say Lisa is like the Principal of a School for Foreign Exchange Students, the Host Parents are the Teachers…. and the students are, well, they are still the students!
She told the kids not to be annoyed with their American Mother when she asks questions like, “How was School today? Did you meet a new friend? What did you learn today? What did you have for lunch?” She told them it was the nature of the American Mom to want to know everything she can. Funny how the Exchange students chuckled about that and all the Moms nodded their heads up and down saying, “Yep, that’s how we are!”
Lisa reminded the kids they can only have 20 minutes of contact a week with friends and family back home. She explained that following that rule will help them to have the most successful experience in America. The concept of this is if they are still wrapped up in the drama at home, they cannot focus on the relationships they are building here in America.
So, the next morning, Lara got an American Facebook page for her American contacts. She can check her German Facebook page once a week and Skype with her mother or father once a week but the goal is to live the American way 99.9% of the time.
Many of the Mothers bonded quickly. In fact, I met one Mom who said she was supposed to Host Lara. However, the High School she would have attended said only one Student per country and they already had a German student. That family has a girl from Viet Nam… and three younger boys of their own. Lara was able to see how different her life could have been had she gone to that family versus ours.
We left the night with the creation of some new friendships. Friendships with Parents who are also explaining U.S. History for hours… friendships with Parents learning different ways to teach their new “daughter” or ‘son” about our culture…. and friendships with Parents who are unselfish volunteers willing to give a part of their family to a Teenager.
Some Parents in the East Valley are sharing phone numbers and emails and may have an informal get-together with the kids and families in October. After that, the next formal gathering is at our house at Christmas with our 15,000 lights…. Just another way to light up their lives in America!