Almost 2 months since Lara, our Exchange Student, returned home to Germany, after 10 months of living with us. And it’s taken me this long to absorb it all, write the Final Chapter of this Blog and turn it into a book. Don’t get me wrong… I will still cry… and I will have to take a tissue break… but it’s important to reflect on the year and answer questions so many people have asked about this once in a lifetime journey.
In my initial blog post, https://lifewithlara.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/the-exchange-experience-a-host-mothers-view/, I shared the hopes and fears that I had being a Host Mother to a teenager whose family and friends were on the other side of the world. It was an overwhelming feeling at first but I took it one day at a time. Now, almost one year later, I’m amazed at how fast the time passed and how much our family learned about another culture, about life and about love for a complete stranger.
One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is, “Will you host another student?” My answer is a quick, “No”. It catches some people by surprise and the first question they shoot back is, “Why? Was it a bad experience?” My answer again is, “No”. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. It was such a wonderful, heartwarming experience that I don’t think it could ever be repeated. You see… we didn’t only host an exchange student who wanted to learn about America. We added a member to our family. And that has grown into an extended family that includes her mother, father, brother, grandparents and best friends.
The goal of the Blog was to keep Lara’s family and friends informed on everything she was doing. From experiencing things for the very first time… to how school was going…. to making friends… to adapting to the American culture. From the connections I’ve made around the world, I can only assume the project was a success! Lara’s friends in Germany became my Facebook friends. I imagine, if they saw that Lara liked me, they could like and trust me too. They saw that I was her “Mother” and helping her complete a 10-month adventure.
One of the most special relationships I’ve developed from this experience is with Lara’s Mother, Ana. From the moment we met on Skype, when we learned Lara was going to live with us, and she cried knowing who was going to care for her daughter… to the day we met in person… we formed a special bond.. one that only two Mothers can share caring for the same child. At times, it’s an unspeakable bond. I would email Ana and talk to her about things Lara was doing here… just between us Mothers. I felt her pain and cried when I learned she was struggling with Lara being gone during the holidays. I imagined how I would feel if my daughter, Brittany, were to leave for 10 months. Honestly, I don’t think I can do it. But Ana stayed strong for her daughter…so her daughter could live an American life. Isn’t that what we do for our children? We stay strong? We guide them through the best and worst of times? It’s what Ana and I both did for 10 months but from halfway around the world.
The day I met Ana, it was a very emotional moment for us. (Yes, here come the tears again). You may recall, Ana traveled to America two weeks before Lara went back to Germany. She arrived at our home just 4 days before Lara left. I can clearly relive the moment Ana pulled up to our home and we went outside to greet her. We met in the middle of the grass and hugged and cried and cried and cried. And the tears were those big alligator tears that just pour down your face! Finally, the woman who trusted me to care for her most prized possession — her daughter — is at my home so we can share Lara TOGETHER! That night, we sat at the kitchen table and talked for hours about everything Lara has done, how she has changed, the friends she made, the woman she had become… all while Lara, Brittany and their friends were running around the house being silly. Her mother said, “I see a different girl than the one that left Germany. But it is a good difference. She has grown as a person.” She thanked me so many times for taking care of Lara and for the Blog. So I guess… the purpose of the Blog was a success.
I’ve connected with others around the world who just wanted to see what life was like as an Exchange Student. Maybe they are thinking of doing the same. Others wanted to see inside just one America family’s lifestyle. Others enjoyed the travel aspect of our time with Lara and how a German student was able to experience trips to Washington, DC, New York City, a Baja Mexico cruise, Los Angeles and a first-time visit to Disneyland! Others I have connected with are experiencing a similar German-American relationship and we now follow each other’s blogs.
There’s also been an unexpected surprise to writing this Blog. The German Company that coordinated Lara’s trip has asked to share the link on their website. They think it will help other students understand the Exchange Student experience. Of course, for those of you who followed our adventures, many said living with us was like living in Disneyland, with all the people and places involved! And we all know everyone’s experience will be different. But I hope others can see the potential for Host Families to be caring, loving and open to teaching a student about America. One friend called me an “Ambassador for America”. I laugh at that but, in a way, I can also relate to it. 🙂
So, what happens next? I’m turning the Blog into a book so that we will have the experience captured in hardcover. Lara will get one too. Lara already has plans to visit us next summer. I plan to go to Germany in Summer 2014 when my daughter graduates from High School. Of course, there’s always Skype, Facebook “Likes” and private Facebook messages that go to our phones…as if Lara and I are texting each other. So, we are in touch all the time. And, of course, there’s always that unspeakable love for her as if she was one of my own children. Some things… like love for a special person… never change.
I leave you now with a greeting card we just received from Lara. Below the picture of the front of the card, I share the inside caption. She also listed all the things she misses about being here. They are the exact things I knew she would miss… the little things about being a family.
Inside the card: “Not only do I miss you, but now I’m really hungry.” 😦 Some things with teenagers just never change!
We love you Lara! XOXOXOXO
Victoria… your silly Host Mum forever!