Tag Archives: exchange student

Back in America 385 Days Later

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385 days after saying good-bye to our German Exchange Student… we are welcoming her back to America! What a fast year plus 20 days it was! If you don’t already know the story, Lara came to us in August 2011 for the 2011-2012 school year at age 15 and in 10th grade. She left us June 2, 2012 at age 16.  She was home for a just couple days when she told her family she wanted to come back to America for her next summer break. Oh, how time flies! It went so fast that I figured the blog was still active so I’d start writing again. I initially started the blog to document my experience of being a Host Mother who was responsible for another woman’s daughter halfway around the world… and for a keepsake for Lara’s, and our, experience! Almost two years since the blog started and we have had more than 11,000 hits! A link for the blog is also on the website for the Exchange Company Lara used for her trip here so students can read about her experience. Lara also volunteers there by helping other students prepare for a similar journey to America. You can read the very first blog here: https://lifewithlara.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/the-exchange-experience-a-host-mothers-view/

1001176_10201421529129353_687189846_nSo…385 days later… we are back at the airport with most of the same friends who were there when she left,  We waited impatiently for 90 minutes until she came out of the International arrival doors. She was welcomed with a banner and everyone yelling, “LARA!!” We were definitely the largest group there to welcome someone at the airport!

385 days later… Lara’s room at the house remains intact. When we returned home from the airport, Lara quickly went to “her room.” It’s a little different than it was when she left but I made sure some items were left in place, like her Bible that she decoupage with the YoungLife kids still resting on a shelf, her old school notebooks on the desk and some of her pottery she made in Clay Class. In the closet were some clothes she decided to leave here, like her Homecoming dress!

20130622_194926385 days later… Lara’s friends are still giggling with her, telling old stories and ready for a night of swimming in the pool after a BBQ.  Some things never change! Brittany, Morgan, Gabby, Erin, Addy, Charlie and Jack were in and out of the pool for most of the evening, along with our son, Travis, and his girlfriend, Rubyann. Then they had to make the traditional trip to Ocean Blue, a yogurt shop around the corner, was a must-do, followed by a movie. It was certainly a late night and a long journey for Lara after 15 hours on planes and jet lag!

385 days later… I realize nothing has really changed since Lara left. Social Media helped us all keep in touch almost every day. I’ve been texting with Lara at least 3 to 4 times a week through WhatsApp, a phone application that’s free texting. We can send photos, videos or record our voices too.  Of course, we’ve Skyped about every other month and had fun sharing things on Facebook and Instagram. Brittany, and has kept in touch with Lara a lot through SnapChat, along with Morgan and Gabby.

SAM_0836385 days later… it’s like Lara never left. Everything is in the same place in the house… some furniture has moved around or is missing but it’s still “home” to her. As I write this, she’s back in the pool on the rafts and playing with the dogs! When she got to the house, she walked right in and checked out the pantry, some of the cabinets in the kitchen, the fridge. She’s just like anyone else in the house and knows I won’t do everything for her. She’s on her own and has to make herself at home again.

385 days later… I’m back to planning some trips with Lara. During her 10 month stay we visited Washington DC, New York City, went on a Baja Mexico Cruise and to Los Angeles and Disneyland. Somehow… we never made it to the Grand Canyon. I know… pretty sad on my part, right? So… a trip to the Grand Canyon is in order. I’m also taking her to “small town America” for the 4th of July. It’s just too hot in Phoenix to do anything so we’re headed up to cool country and Prescott, Arizona for a carnival, live music, fireworks and an Arts and Crafts Show. A trip to Las Vegas is in the works, staying at Mandalay Bay where there’s a beach and lazy river. Lara met her mother in Vegas for a couple days towards the end of her stay in America but I’d like to take her to see some other sights there with Brittany. And if we still have time…we might make it to the beaches of San Diego and Sea World.

385 days later… I can see it’s definitely going to be an action-packed and busy summer! And of course, I’ll document our reunion along the way right here!

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The Final Chapter-A Host Mother’s Thoughts

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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!

American Movie Theatres

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We are not a big movie theatre family and typically wait for movies to come out on DVD. So it took 5 months for Lara to be here before we went to our first movie! The big question… is there a difference between American and German Movie Theatres?

We went to a Harkins Theatre that has 25 screens. Lara and I went with Kay, Lara’s cabin mate on the cruise, and her Assistant, Amanda.  Lara said they have large theatres like that in Germany too. She thought the actual thatre we were in was small but we explained to her that, depending on what movie was playing, it might be in a smaller theatre. Some are larger.

At first, Lara thought our prices might be a little higher but now says they are similar in price. Her mom tells me that it can cost as much as $12.50 to get in. Kay had some Harkins Theatre passes that allowed us to get in for $6.50. Typical price for a movie in the evening is $9.50. There are also discounted adult admission for shows before 6:00 PM and discounts for children (ages 3 – 13), seniors (60 years +) and students (with current ID). A chart is below.

General Admission
Adult $9.50
Matinee (Adult, starting before 6pm) $7.00
Child (3-13) $5.50
Senior (60+) $6.50
Student (with valid current ID) $7.00
Military (active duty with valid ID) $7.00

In Germany, they can buy tickets online, just like in America. But they have many locations that have Reserved seating. Typically, America does not offer reserved seats.

And that smell of popcorn that wets your mouth from the moment you go inside the Theatre Lobby is the same no matter where you go! The Concession prices are high in Germany too… like$3.50 for a small soda and $5.00 for a bag of Popcorn! Kay had a Popcorn bag that was allowed to be filled one time FREE… so we definitely took advantage of that!

So, overall, Lara’s first American movie Theatre was not much different than Germany but still… it was another FIRST in America. By the way…we saw ‘We Bought A Zoo”. Very cute movie, entertaining, beautiful scenery and animals! We all recommend seeing it!

The next Blog Post with A LOT of differences… American vs German TV!!!

First American Halloween

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It’s almost a week late… but I’m finally getting caught up on Posts… so here’s one on Lara’s first American Halloween!

To start with… YES… they celebrate Halloween in Germany! Everyone has asked the same question… including me! It’s mostly for little kids to go trick-or-treating…just as it is here. But they also have Halloween Parties and dress up in costume at all ages. Halloween actually started in Europe.http://www.history.com/topics/halloween#a1

Lara’s first Halloween in America turned out to be a week-long affair. It started with a Halloween Party at her friend’s house on October 22nd. Katie is in Lara’s English class, and also a friend and softball teammate to our daughter, Brittany. Both girls were invited but Brittany was out-of-town so this was also Lara’s first party to attend by herself. Our older daughter, Amber, helped Lara put a Witch’s costume together with a combination of some things Lara had and things amber had. Amber brought Lara to the party. I picked her up. Lara had fun! Lara also has a special bond with Katie’s family so that helps! Katie’s mother has relatives in Germany and talk at our daughters’ softball games about life there! It’s been quite an education for all of us.

Lara and the Schreiner girls!

On the following Friday night, the 28th, we all went to an annual Halloween Party at our oldest son’s house. Tyler and his wife, Sharon, spare no expense in decorations! Last year was their first party, before they were married.

Strawberry Ghosts

Brittany, Lara and I went there to help decorate and make food items the night before. We made Ghosts out of Chocolate-covered strawberries and a 7-layer dip that looked like a spider web.

The night before Halloween, Lara and Brittany carved Pumpkins and made some great Pumpkin Seeds. They googled a recipe and put them in the oven while they carved their pumplins. And yes… they carve pumpkins in Germany too!

On Halloween night, Lara and Brittany attended a YoungLife Costume-Dance Party. Previous Blogs have explained YoungLife, http://www.younglife.org/us. Both girls decided they wanted to dress up as something different…and they looked so cute! Lara was Minnie Mouse. Brittany was a Little Girl. Their friend Katie was “Dora the Explorer”. I told them it was like looking at a Little Girl with her two favorite things… a Minnie Mouse and Dora! They are still little kids at heart, I guess!

Our entire family attended the party and we were all in costume! You can see all the pictures below!!!

LARA AND SIENA

THE "OLD" KIDS

SHARON AND TYLER AND THEIR DOGS

DEAD BODY IN COUCH

SHARON,BRITTANY,AMBER,LARA

SHADD AND NADINE

EDYE

AMBER AND BRITTANY

SHADD AND TYLER

DEAD ALICE IN WONDERLAND

SHADD AND NADINE

LARA PLAYS DEAD

SHARON

AMBER AND ROCKY

ME AND TERRY

ME AND BRITTANY

ME AND LARA

MELODY

TYLER AND TRAVIS

TRAVIS THE GANGSTER

7-LAYER DIP

Travel creates a Family Bond

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Turn around and SMILE!!!

9 days of traveling together, visiting new places and dealing with what life throws at you… it’s what makes a family bond with each other….especially when a German Exchange Student is with you!

Pictures are worth a thousand words… so I thought I’d let photos explain how much we bonded with each other while traveling to Washington DC and New York City! We had so many moments of silliness…and closeness! Enjoy… and be sure to Laugh Out Loud with us!

FIRST STOP… SILLY PICTURES AT THE AMERICAN HISTORY MUSEUM!

Lara and the National Anthem!
Lara for President!
Brittany for President!
This is an “inside joke” to us!!
Pet a Buffalo!
Kiss a Buffalo!

LARA AND I GOT SEPARATED FROM TERRY AND BRITTANY IN THE MUSEUM SO LARA DECIDED TO POSE FOR SOME OF THE DISPLAYS!!!

Cool Dude!

At the Market!

Subway ride

Don’t get hit by the train!

Bus ride?
Waiting for the bus

GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN!!!

Taking Brittany’s picture!
Planning the next day!
Cheesy smiles in Central Park!
NYC store named after Lara!!!
Britt trying to stay dry!
Mother-Daughter/Central Park
Soaking up sun at Ellis Island
Tired girls at Ellis Island
Subway fun
Kicking it up!
Take THAT!
Are they in pain or making a funny face?
Kiss me!
YIKES!!!!!!!
Taking Lara’s picture!
Crazy Host Mom!
Stop it, MOM!!!
Aren’t we cute!


TAKING TIME TO BE SILLY!!! We did this at Great Falls National Park and laughed the hardest here than we did anywhere! The captions under each picture explain what kind of face Brittany was calling out for us to make! HYSTERICAL!!!

WINK, WINK, WINK!

EEEEEWWWWW!

THINK HARD!

MAKE A GUN!

SCRUNCHED UP FACE

STICK YOUR TONGUE OUT!

WHAT'S UP THERE?

CRYING

OH NO!!!

SCARED FACE

NICE PICTURE
LARA,LOOK HERE!
SILLY!
SILLY!
AAAAWWWW….HOW CUTE!
PEEK-A-BOO!
SOMETHING WAS REALLY FUNNY, I GUESS!
SHE’S SO GOOD AT THAT CAMERA PHONE THING!
FERRY RIDE-COOL SUNGLASSES!

ENOUGH OF THE SILLY GIRLS! TERRY WAS IN A FEW PICTURES TOO… INCLUDING THE FAMILY SHOTS OF ALL 4 OF US!

DADDY-DAUGHTER

WWII MEMORIAL

PROUD DADDY

HAPPY LIFE, SASSY WIFE

ARE WE DONE YET?

POUTY FACE

HAPPY BOY

JEFFERSON MEMORIAL

DADDY EXPLAINS

THE FARMER IN HIM

TIMES SQUARE

REST STOP

CHILLIN'

ALWAYS WORKING

LOOSENING UP

CENTRAL PARK

NBC STUDIOS


Hello Mr. President!

Lincoln Memorial

Brittany's Birthday Dinner

The Capital

Great Falls National Park

Times Square

Times Square

Liberty Island

State of Liberty



NYC Day 3-Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Broadway

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On our last day in New York City we had to squeeze in the MUST-DO sites on our list… Rockefeller Plaza, Central Park, Broadway and…weather permitting…the Empire State Building.

ROCKEFELLAR CENTER

Our first stop was Rockefeller Center. We were surprised at how busy it was! It has 19 commercial buildings covering 22 acres. Built by the Rockefeller family, it is located in the center of Midtown Manhattan. Construction of the first 14 buildings in Art Deco style began in 1930 and were completed in 1939. Rockefeller Center is among the last major building projects in the United States to incorporate a program of public art. just one of the pieces is Paul Manship’s highly recognizable bronze gilded statue of the Greek legend Titan Prometheus. It rests in the sunken plaza at the front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

When we were there, they were preparing the ice rink on the same area… a popular public attraction in the winter months. The girls liked seeing how they fill the rink. The Center was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

The plaza has about 200 flagpoles. At varying times, the flags of United Nations member countries, the flags of United States states and territories, or various decorative and seasonal flags are flown. During U.S. holidays, every flagpole carries the Flag of the United States. As windy as it was…the flags were pretty but, as you can see from pictures below, it didn’t make for the best “hair day”!

As a former Producer of an NBC-Affiliate TV Station, KPNX-TV12 in Phoenix… I’ve always wanted to visit Rockefellar Center to see where The Today Show is broadcast. http://today.msnbc.msn.com/ I’m a huge fan of the morning show and other NBC programs so the NBC Studio Store there was fun. We even got to take our picture with the show’s host, Matt Lauer. He was such a good sport posing with all of us!

The LEGO Store was a fun stop in the Plaza. It has the tallest Pick-A-Brick wall featuring LEGO elements in a variety of colors & shapes in bulk. Everyone could play with the small pieces and build something. The large dragon and miniature city were highlights!

RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL

Radio City Music Hall, just around the corner, was completed in December, 1932. At the time it was promoted as the largest and most opulent theater in the world. Its original intended name was the “International Music Hall” but was changed to reflect the name of its neighbor, “Radio City,” as the new NBC Studios in the RCA Building became known. RCA was one of the complex’s first and most important tenants and the entire Center itself was sometimes referred to as “Radio City.” http://www.radiocity.com/

CENTRAL PARK

 Just a few blocks away was Central Park. What an amazing site of 250 acres of lawns, 24,000 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams and 130 acres of woodlands…along with 9,000 benches, 36 bridges, 26 ballfields, 21 playgrounds, 55 sculptures and monuments! It is massive! We walked through the south portion of the park for a couple hours… realizing afterwards that we could have spent an entire day here biking and walking and exploring. The girls LOVED the horse drawn carriages riding through the park and the many bridges and wide open grass areas! We all agreed…. Central Park looked exactly as it does in the movies! As we left, we took time to snap some pictures at one of the main entrances to the park, at the north tip of Broadway.

BROADWAY 

Broadway refers to the famous street in Manhattan that has become the worldwide leader in stage entertainment. It was fun to see all the billboards advertising the many shows available to see. At $100 a show, and a tight budget, we had to pass on seeing a show.  But it’s interesting to learn that the history of Broadway dates all the way back to the 1700’s. Then, in the late-1800’s and early 1900’s, the rise in train transportation  a drop in poverty created a demand for evening entertainment in New York. Soon, the bright lights of Broadway became known as “The Great White Way,” giving birth to a new New York City landmark. http://www.broadway.com/

TIMES SQUARE-DAYTIME

From there, we ventured into Times Square during the day for the first time. To be honest…it wasn’t much different than at night…and we kind of laughed about it. The lights are almost as bright at night as if it were daytime…just without all the sparkle! And it was just as busy on a Saturday afternoon as it was on a Thursday night, when we went the first time. Part of the crowd was due to the “Occupy Wall Street” Protestors who had planned a march that day from Wall Street to Times Square. Police presence was heavy but they marched peacefully right by a restaurant we had stopped at for dinner.

EMPIRE STATE BUILDING

When we woke up hearing there were going to be 20-to-40-mile-per-hour wind gusts, we weren’t real excited about going to the top of the Empire State Building. After all…the thought of the being on the top of a building that sways with the wind is a little intimidating. Terry and I were definitely chicken but Brittany and Lara were questioning the wind as well! For teenagers, that’s pretty funny! So we decided to wait and see if the weather changed by nightfall. It did. Winds died down. But apparently, everyone had the same thought we did. Wait till nightfall. So, there was a 2-hour wait to go up… and it was 7:30pm …and we had to get up at 5am to catch a plane… and still had a 30-minute trip back to the hotel. Needless to say…the girls decided against going up.

 

Instead we back to the hotel and walked around back to get pictures of the New York City skyline at night!

WRAP UP 

Overall… this was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had! The girls never complained once about being tired or missing out on something or all the ups and downs we faced on the trip! Some of those are in another Blog Post to come that will be titled “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. I told the girls at the very star that it was “all about the adventure.” And it really was!!!

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