By the time we moved to Wichita Falls, Carla and I had recognized that having children of our own was a stretch. We had hosted students in the past, and after our relocation, we got the itch to host again. We contacted the school district to ask them about their procedures and guidelines for enrolling exchange students, and they gave me the CIEE Local Coordinator’s information. Within a week we had met Sam Beauchamp, the CIEE Regional Director in Texas, and chosen our first CIEE student, Martin from Slovakia.
We really didn’t know what to expect from CIEE, but they gave us the best support anyone could ask for. From Martin’s arrival without his luggage to helping us when we just needed to hear that we were doing a good job with him, we felt supported. What was most unexpected was how much Martin became a family member. He was pretty reserved and not verbal about his emotions, but his loyalty was quite evident. By the end of those ten months and his twice a week judo lessons at the local YMCA, we really felt like we had a son. When it was time for Martin to return to Slovakia, he told us that he would be in touch with us for holidays and birthdays "if he remembered them". So, we were surprised when he sent us bimonthly emails asking to meet online to chat.
The next year, we chose to host a German boy, Bjoern. We call him our most adventurous host son. While attending high school in America, he was on the swim team one semester and played soccer the next. We had a lot of fun with him because he arrived 15 years old and 6’5”. There was nothing he couldn’t reach for us, as neither Carla nor I are very tall.
It was during Bjoern’s stay that Martin from the previous year called us and asked what our summer plans were because he and his sister were hoping to come spend a month with us. We immediately started making plans for them. They were great. We went to Dallas three times and had cookouts and parties. The most awesome connection from all of this was that Martin had spoken with Bjoern before Bjoern’s exchange, which Bjoern found quite valuable, and now Martin was about to meet face-to-face with our next student, Marc from Berlin.
Marc arrived while Martin and Nikki were visiting, so we took a family weekend trip to Quartz Mountain Resort in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. The boys were really great together. We really were like a family. It was a bit humorous to have our two host sons call us "Mom" and "Dad"in public. We got a lot of strange looks. But we loved the attention.
Marc spent his year with us and helped chose our first double placement student, Rafael from Brazil. Neither of the boys had brothers since Marc is an only child and Rafael the only boy of two children in his family. The school called them brothers all year.
This year we are hosting two boys, Moritz (Germany) and Caio (Brazil). They are great. Moritz came to us in the fall and shortly thereafter joined the youth worship band where he plays piano. He also took lessons in piano from the chairperson of the piano department of our local university. By Christmas, he was joining the Sunday morning church band and playing piano for us. We decided to host a full-year Brazilian student this year in January. Caio came and, without us knowing it, he plays congas. It’s really great that we all play instruments in church together along with Carla singing. We are now quite the musical family. You would think we were the Partridge family.
In August, right after Moritz arrived, Bjoern and his family came to spend a weekend with us during their North American family vacation. It was so great that Bjoern was able to share with Moritz his experience in school and with our family. I think it was good for Moritz to get that personalized orientation into who we are from a former student. So far, every one of our CIEE boys have had that experience of meeting one of the previous students and making contact; so we are now able to truly be like a big family that is growing each year. We now have six great sons of whom we are very proud and we are currently preparing for the arrival of number seven.
Carla and I never thought our lives could have been so blessed as we are now to have these wonderful young men come spend time with us, and then choose to stay a permanent fixture in our lives. We hear from at least one of them almost weekly. Their parents talk with us through emails and telephone calls. Christmas is a big deal as we give and receive so many packages from our family around the world. We are so grateful for the fulfillment that has come to our lives because of the work of CIEE, and especially our Regional Director, Sam Beauchamp. Thank you CIEE for making a family possible for us!