I think takes a very brave soul to be an exchange student. These very young adults come from all over the world, leaving behind everything they know. They come into a stranger's home, speaking a foreign language, knowing no one and full of hope for great things from their stay with their host families. I can't imagine the fear they have to overcome to leave their homes and families behind. These students are brave beyond their years.
Most of the students never have to realize how brave they are. They are reeled into their host family, hook, line and sinker. A small minority, though, has to tap a reserve of strength I am not sure they even knew they had. A small minority of exchange students are kept on the outside of their families looking in. They are not embraced from the beginning. They are left to find their own way in the United States, with no safety net. Their bravery is put to the test.
When we volunteered to be a host family for a year, we volunteered to be Jan's parents for the year. To me, volunteering to be his host mom meant treating Jan like one of my own kiddos. All of us in this program volunteered to be host families and host parents ~ VOLUNTEERED. Not one signle family was forced to host their exchange student. Yet there are host students in our area who are suffering through the year with families who make them feel they are a burden to the family. These are families who count every mile they drive their student. They count every penny they spend feeding their student. I don't count every mile or every penny with my own kids, (I would go insane!) why would I do it with Jan? There are host students who suffer through the year in host families filled personality conflicts which are left unresolved. These are families who who leave their students on the outside of their family looking in. The students who are treated as a burden and who are left on their own because the parents don't want to work through conflicts break my heart. These kids come into a host family's home looking for an opportunity of a lifetime, instead they are treated to a crash course in bravery and courage. These students may not be our own flesh and blood kids but they are still just kids. They deserved to be treated with as much love, tolerance and respect as we treat our own kids.
I am not saying Stan and I are perfect or we have done everything right this year. It has been hard work and sometimes I screwed up. Sometimes I was cranky and irritable at the thought of having to drive one more kid one more place, having to sign one more set of papers or do one more load of laundry. There were times I snapped at all of the kids because chores weren't done, homework was put off until the last minute or they were running so far behind in the morning it caused them to miss the bus. I certainly haven't been perfect, but in every one of these situations I tried to put myself on the other side. What if one of my kids wanted to be an exchange student? How would I want my child to be treated in another family? Would I want my child to be treated like a burden or would I want my child to be treated with love and respect? I will continue to screw up and get irritated, I am sure, but I will also try very hard to continue to work as a family to solve any conflicts. It is what families do, they work together to solve problems.
As parents, we don't get to choose who our children are. We don't get to choose their eye color, hair color or personality. As parents, though, we do get shape our kids and help mold them into who they are. We may not always like what they do but we love who they are and we love them ~ most of the time. When we signed up to be a host family, we got to choose a little bit. We were able to read Jan's profile and talk with him on Skype but we didn't KNOW him. We weren't the ones who shaped and help mold him so we knew there could be times where we wouldn't like what he did or how he behaved, just like one of our own kids, but we made the choice to bring him into our home. We made the choice to treat him like one of our own kids. We chose, from the very beginning, to work through any issues in our year with Jan ~ that is what you do in a family. You make it work and you work it out. As parents, we chose to bring our kids into the world and we chose to bring Jan into our home so we love them ~ most of the time.
Oh, for the love of our very brave exchange student...