By: Lise Jumper, Host Family in Idaho
Our first hosting experience was not planned, exactly, and it was touch and go on our end until our student Gabriel arrived. In early summer we were contacted by Glenna Tooman on our ranch Facebook page about hosting a young lady that wanted to live on a horse ranch- did we know any horsey families that would be interested in host?ing? We didn’t, but I had always thought it would be interesting and fun to host an exchange student, so after a bit of research into ETC and several discussions between my husband and I, we decided to give it a try.
Our student was due to arrive in a few months and we began making preparations and getting ourselves in the right frame of mind to have a teenager in the house after having an ’empty nest’ for about 20 years. We were getting geared up and feeling fairly well prepared when we had a death in the family that required us to be away for several weeks. During this time our intended student got anxious and didn’t want to come; however, her home exchange organization had other ideas and wanted to make her come anyway. This sounded like a recipe for disaster to us, so we told the coordinator to cancel the arrangement; we had enough stress with the latest developments and didn’t want to add to it with an unhappy teen. We planned to get in contact once we’d returned home and see if we wanted to choose another student.
Nearly 3 weeks later we were home and ETC had a group of about 6 students, boys this time, for us to choose from. I wasn’t too sure I’d be able to handle it with all the extra stress that had just entered my life, but we decided to go ahead and began choosing another student. We settled on a young man from Brazil, Gabriel, and our adventure was on again. We had a pre-arrival orientation with another couple that was hosting, and meetings with Glenna and pages of information to read about Brazil and hosting in general, and lots to get ready in a short time. Busy was good for me.
Arrival day came and we were waiting in the airport arrivals lounge….and waiting and waiting. Gabriel’s flight was delayed about 5 hours, but he did eventually arrive and promptly fell asleep in the hours’ drive home. We had a kid! While the information provided about our student’s adjustment process was helpful, it could only go so far since it was general and we had a specific student; we still had to get to know each other.
So get to know each other we did, though it was harder at first than we expected. Gabriel’s English wasn’t as good as he’d thought and we had trouble understanding each other sometimes, but we all worked at it. Gabriel had lived in the city; now here he was on a farm in the country. Things were dusty, you had to wear mud boots when it rained. He’d only had a bird before; now the family included cats, dogs, horses, chickens, and turkeys. It took nearly the whole school year, plus a few lint rollers before he wasn’t quite so OCD about pet hair. We were worried about him, he seemed to be tired more than and longer than our orientation suggested he would be. He learned the horses names and how to feed them and he tried riding once. We were soccer parents for the first time, rooting him and the Emmett soccer team on from the sidelines. He made friends quickly, going to birthday parties and the homecoming dance. We were surprised when he was interested in accompanying us on a business trip to Las Vegas- he drug us into nearly every casino on the strip and we took him on a side trip to the Grand Canyon. He saw snow for the first time; we ambushed him in a snowball fight; he learned to show board. I sent photos home to his parents, kept them updated on his activities and let them know that he was a great kid.
In the beginning, I had worried that I wouldn’t be able to give him all the attention he deserved with our recent loss and, though settling my mom’s affairs was difficult, having him made it easier to deal with all that was going on. We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home rather than the family dinner I’d planned with my mom who’d just died. I was still settling her affairs when my sister died, so the Spring Break trip to California became dual purpose -we squeezed in jaunts to Magic Mountain, the beach, Hollywood and Sea World while I settled affairs for my sister in San Diego.
All too soon we were taking prom pictures of Gabriel and his date and then it was graduation time. When Gabriel got permission to extend his time with us past the end of school we planned a graduation party and trip to Yellowstone, and an early birthday celebration with just the 3 of us, postponing thoughts of goodbye. It seemed like we had just gelled as a family and it was time for him to go. We tried not to get too emotional, but that was hard; he’d gone from being our exchange student to our son.
It wasn’t goodbye forever though, we’d see him that fall when we visited him and his family in Brazil, and there was always Facebook and Skype (though Gabriel had to set Skype up for us before he left). We had to delay our trip for a few months and it seemed like we might never get there, waiting for our Brazil visas to arrive, but we were finally on our way in January. We got a taste of what Gabriel’s trip to the States had been – all day getting to Dallas then an overnight flight to Sao Paulo and lastly a 2-hour car ride with him and his uncle to Sao Joao da Boa Vista and his home. No wonder he fell asleep on his trip to our house from the airport; we were exhausted after 24 hours traveling. We were treated to a Brazilian family BBQ on our first night, complete with extended family and friends, lots of food and plenty of wonderful conversation.
We had 5 lovely days with Gabriel and his family at the end of their summer break. Gabriel planned our activities while we were there and served as translator most of the time since we didn’t speak Portuguese and only he and his brother spoke English well. His extended family took us on an off-road excursion to a local mountain park that offered hang gliding, biking, and other outdoor sports during the season (it was off season) and fabulous views of the surrounding area. With Gabriel’s mom and brother Mateo we drove to a ‘touristic’ city nearby and took a carriage ride around town to some specialty shops, tried a few samples and bought a few souvenirs, though his mom wouldn’t let us pay for anything. Another day we stopped by the English school that Gabriel went to in preparing to be an exchange student. The school was on break, but we got the nickel tour and spent a while talking with the staff that was there preparing lessons. One evening Gabriel brought his new girlfriend home to meet us. At the house we looked at Gabriel’s photo albums, heard stories about them and showed the video we’d made of his year with us in Idaho. We went shopping, saw his grandfather’s farm and talked about all sorts of stuff.
It was a fast 5 days and a harder farewell at the airport for us this time without definite plans to see each other, but we promised to get together again; the next time Gabriel and his family would come to Idaho. Our Brazilian visas are good for another 9 years, so we’ll be able to go back and visit our South American extended family. Gabriel is in his first year of university now, so maybe we’ll make a trip then, who knows. In the meantime, we keep in touch on Facebook and email.
Hosting our ETC exchange student Jin has been a dream come true. You see, our 5-year-old daughter always wanted a big sister. Instead, she has three little brothers. Initially, we were not sure our family was in a position to host a teenager. With four children under the age of 6, our hands were full, and we were concerned that an only child in China would experience compounded culture shock living with so many little people. But Jin has integrated well into our family. I’ve found her putting on a tea party with folded paper cups and headpieces, pouring beads for “tea” with our daughter. Our 5-year-old eagerly helps Jin wash the dishes, so our dream has come true as this hosting experience has trained our 5-year-old to do dishes! Only a couple weeks into Jin’s stay, the kids were anxiously awaiting their father’s arrival home from work, eager to play “Baba monster”—basically being chased around the house by a growling father. The downstairs door opened and all eyes were on the approaching figure… “Oh, it’s Jin,” the kids realized. Jin hesitated, initially shocked by all the attention (and disappointment when they realized she was not their father), then she proceeded to growl and chase the 2-year-old as if she were the monster he expected. Roars of laughter pealed to the ceiling and we knew that Jin had become a member of the family. Our children love music and we often hear our 2-year-old singing the Chinese versions of Frere Jacques, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and a Korean song about three bears that Jin taught them. I know that long after Jin has left our home, she will always have a place in our children’s’ memories as their big Chinese sister (who taught them some beloved songs and played Baba monster). As a homeschooling mom, I have enjoyed switching it up from kindergarten curriculum to helping Jin with her high school homework. It has been fun to playfully construct sentences about our everyday life with her 11th grade English vocabulary words. My husband is passionate about history and has enjoyed helping her understand U.S. History better, particularly as our country was founded upon ideals such as freedom and individual rights which are alien concepts to the Chinese system. As a former diplomat, I enjoy getting to explain American culture to Jin to help develop mutual understanding. Hosting an exchange student provides an opportunity to leave foreigners with a much clearer picture of what it means to be an American. As adults, their understanding of America could reap significant gains for our bilateral relations with their country.
She Brightened Our World…
By: Audrey Hamlin/Host Family in NC
At the beginning of last year, there seemed to be a cloud looming over us. By the time August rolled around and it was time to start thinking about school supplies, we had endured a whole summer of bad news.
But then came Azilesli.
A friend had posted about the ETC program on Facebook and I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity for us all to share with and learn from an exchange student. Having formed a lifelong friendship with a Hungarian student while I was in high school, I knew that this could be a great thing.
But with all the intricate details of our hectic lives, we just didn’t know if it would be feasible to accommodate a guest. How would we be able to transform our sports-themed workout room into a comfortable teenage bedroom before school started? Would our student want to be with us, or would she be running a different direction every night? Will she like our food? What if she doesn’t like our pets?
There were a hundred questions. But every day for a week, I inexplicably woke up right around 2 a.m. with one thought: make this happen. So I set out to painting, decorating, and setting up furniture in our former workout room.
When it became real and we knew that we were going to get a houseguest, our 12-year old son and 8-year-old daughter became especially excited. Clarissa had just celebrated her 8th birthday two days before we went to pick Azi up. On the way, I vividly recall Clarissa exclaiming, “This is my wish come true! I can’t believe I’m getting a new sister for my birthday!”
And the rest is history. Azi instantly fell into our lifestyle as if she had always been a part of us.We all became enamored by this sweet girl who fit like a glove in our busy family. In the fall, she went to football/cheerleading practices and was there every Saturday to support her new siblings. Then we transitioned into the craziness of basketball, which segued right into soccer; Azi has been with us through it all, seldom missing any event.
Having her with us made the holidays all a little more magical; trips more interesting, birthdays more celebratory.
She has been a positive role model in every way. One instance was when Clarissa was especially down about learning multiplication facts. Azi told her the importance of math and offered encouragement. Then they got out the flashcards. While Clarissa would normally balk, she took to heart what Azi told her. While this is only one particularly touching time, there have been many such inspirational interactions.
I would recommend to future host families to absorb and cherish such moments, for the memories they leave are priceless. I could go on for pages about how Azi has enhanced our lives. When things were looking dim last year, Azi came along and lit us up with laughter and love.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go…
by Josh and Marianne Paddock, Host Parents/Colorado Springs, CO
Let me begin my saying, it was meant to be. Although we did not intend to host an exchange student since we already have 4 kids (one daughter who is 22 & three sons ages 20,16, &13) and 4 fur babies; we just thought how could we fit in another child in our constantly chaotic home?! Well, we did and it all started when I was browsing on a networking page where I stumbled upon a post about a boy from Korea looking for a host family. I showed the post to my husband who happened to be a retired Korean linguist in the US Marine Corps. when he was young, he too was as an exchange student in beautiful Norway and he had an amazing time. We thought, how nice would it be to share that experience this wonderful child named Sae Young. Here’s the best part, he didn’t mind a hectic household with crazy Golden Retrievers and even had this crazy request that he wanted siblings considering he is an only child with a pet hedgehog.
Little did we know the experience will create a HUGE impact to all of us. Just a perfect peg in a round hole! He fit right in as if he was ours. He immediately warmed up to our lifestyle and even the way we communicate which is full of puns, sarcasm, and jokes. Sae and our younger boys have so much in common in their preferred sports, their food preferences (I am Filipino so yes, there is always cooked rice in my household ), the music they listen to, and much more. He witnessed the election and the Denver Broncos winning the Super Bowl. He even sang Karaoke with us! Sae learned American slangs and has become like his silly host brothers. He went from bowing and hands together to begging for hugs, from being quiet to throwing punch lines, and even giving gag gifts.
We created wonderful memories at home and traveled 15 states with Sae that we hope he will never ever forget. We developed a lasting friendship with Sae and his family that we continue to stay in touch to this day. One year seems a long time. I suggest not paying attention to it. Instead, live your lives as it is and have fun with the experience. I am teary-eyed just remembering the day he left to go back to Korea. It was harder than we thought it would be for us and Sae. We are thankful he chose us and we will hold on to those memories forever.
I will Remember You
By: Becky Ziegler, Host Mom, AZ
Have you ever had that feeling that something was missing from your life? Or, do you have a little extra time on your hands each day and you don’t know what to do with it? Maybe you are like me and think if only my spare room had a purpose. If any of these statements ring true for you then I think you need an exchange student, or two.???? I feel like a career host mom who can’t turn away a student in need of a home. When I get that call asking to help bring a student to the US I hear that Sarah McLachlan song in that commercial that pulls at your heart strings and I immediately say yes. I am currently “helping” two students… Anri from Japan and Vivian from Germany. They couldn’t be more different from each other and from my own kids, but we live in perfect harmony. And for that, I am thankful, especially for their parents. Every day I think about calling Anri’s parents to thank them for raising someone so respectful, helpful and happy, but unfortunately, I don’t speak Japanese. Vivian is independent and free, and fun. Her mother has done an excellent job instilling confidence in her and teaching her the importance of building and maintaining good relationships. But, what I’m really here to tell you is, they are “helping” me as much as I am “helping” them. I’ve got a car full of kids singing, laughing, sleeping (Anri), snap chatting, and speaking with enthusiasm about their day. I’ve got a house full of Athletes (which I love) who put in 100% effort at practices and games while managing homework and good grades. My daughter has what she’s always wanted, a sister, make that a sorority! I get to be their forever host mom and hopefully leave them with a positive experience of what it’s like to be a mom in America who has a career, opens her home to others, and has fun. I have four kids! I bought a bigger car, I spend more on groceries, and I go to a lot of games, but this is us! My husband and my son were reluctant to take in two students, after all, living with four girls sounds a little frightening. As predicted, we are now a happy family of 6. My son always has someone to watch a movie with or play basketball with and my husband gets to hear all of the crazy teen stories when he picks up the girls from school. I don’t know if it was fate, or if my coordinator is just good at finding me the best students, if it all happened to teach me a lesson about enjoying the little things and enjoying people, or if it was just crazy luck that I ended up here. But, I definitely came out the winner. Be like me and host an exchange student. In return, you may find your peace, love, and joy.
Our Hosting Story
By: Cassie Marez, Host Family & Field Manager, NC
We are the Marez family, two parents, one dog, and 5 children! We learned about hosting through a friend who posted about the need for host families on Facebook. One of my close friends from my junior year in high school was a German foreign exchange student and I was immediately excited about the opportunity. Although my husband thought I might be crazy, we love having a house full of kids, so we jumped in with 9 days left to find families for our school district. We ended up choosing a German son named Lukas. We couldn’t really tell it by his application, or he by ours, but he ended up being a perfect fit with our family. His sense of humor fit right in with our family’s and he brought a new sense of adventure to our home. We were stuck in the monotony of day to day life, soccer and water polo practice, scout meetings, PTA meetings, work etc. Lukas coming into our home opened our eyes to appreciate little things we took for granted about being American and about living in what we thought was a boring city. When he left back to home in June that following year, we definitely felt a piece missing from our family. We thought we never could “replace” him and were hesitant to host again. It would never be that good again, right? We felt like we were pressing our luck. We ended up relocating from Albuquerque, NM to Charlotte, NC that summer and was contacted about the need from ETC again. Charlotte was one of the places that it was easy for semester students to attend school and there was a semester German girl who needed a host family. We thought we would play it safe with a six-month commitment (we ended up wishing it was a full year) and decided to go forward with Louisa. We took the plunge again and somehow hit the jackpot twice in a row. Although she fit with our family perfectly, it was in a very different way than Lukas did. And yet, her differences are what made it great. Louisa didn’t, in fact, replace Lukas, she just added on to our international family. After that we were hooked and have now hosted another girl, an Italian named Francesca. Again, a perfect fit for our family, just in a different way. And just like our own children, whom we love equally but in very different ways, we have learned to love these children as our own. Hosting has been a blessing to our family and something I can’t recommend highly enough! We have learned about Germany, Italy, and several other countries by being a part of this ETC community. But most importantly, we have learned about love! #etchostfamily