I asked my mom to write a post from her perspective about everything that has happened with CBYX this far. There are many posts out there for students about the application process, the emotions you'll feel, and leaving, but not too many for parents, so I thought this could be very helpful. Thanks to my mom for writing this and enjoy!
Samantha asked me to write a post from the perspective of the parent watching their student walk through the security checkpoint knowing they are gone for a year. There are three sides to this year: the student going on exchange, the family generously opening their home to the student, and the parents waving goodbye to the exchange student.
Samantha is our youngest daughter and our second to go on an exchange. The fact that she was the second didn’t make it any easier; in some ways, it made it harder. We knew what to expect. Samantha has wanted to participate in the CBYX program since 2013. She has talked about it for five, straight years. She lived through her older sister’s exchange sharing her ups and downs, so Samantha was well prepared for the joys and challenges of being on exchange as were we.
When the applications opened, Samantha downloaded it the very first day. She immediately read the essay prompts and began agonizing over what to say, how to say it, how to make the word limit, and then she saw the video requirement. This was something her older sister’s program didn’t ask her to do. Samantha immediately had thousands of ideas, but 90 seconds is a short period of time to fit in your whole life causing more agony.
Samantha’s dad and I listened, encouraged, supported, gave advice when asked, read, reread, and read again, edited, filmed, filmed again, and again, and again. We helped find music, photos, and baby lederhosen. We drove her to that perfect spot at the perfect time. Nope, not quite the perfect spot, so we were off again. Hours spent watching the video. Should she include that? Should she add a 0.2 second there? Should she cut that photo? Is that music right? Did that sound good? Samantha was so committed, so excited. It was thrilling. It was exhausting. It was exhilarating.
It was frightening. What if she wasn’t chosen for semi-finals? What if she was and then wasn’t offered a scholarship? What if she was offered the scholarship and then decided to go? Our youngest child gone… Her sister off to college 1,100 miles away… An empty nest. We worked through it one day at a time. Some days we were as excited and happy as she was about all the opportunities. Other days I closed the bedroom door at night and tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of her off, far away for a year. But I was not going to stand in her way. Her dad and I believed that our job as parents was to ensure she was ready to spread her wings and fly when she goes to college. An exchange was a way to allow her to practice for that opportunity but with a safety net.
Now Samantha is nothing if not a pragmatist. She knew that the chances of earning a scholarship were slim. She told us that she knew that there were many amazing kids out there applying for a scholarship from her CBYX chatrooms. Samantha applied to a state-sponsored boarding school for her last two years of high school just in case. So, while she was applying for CBYX, she was also applying to this school. Within one week she found out she was a semi-finalist for CBYX AND a semi-finalist for the boarding school; interview weekends required for both.
Her dad and I were absolutely thrilled. Both would be amazing opportunities, but Samantha was clear about her first choice: CBYX. We supported her. It was hard though. The school was just 3 hours away and we would see her home one weekend each month and could attend all her sports events. CBYX was Germany and even with technology, we wouldn’t see her for 11 months. We wouldn’t be able to physically share her life. She would be sharing it with others.
Samantha had to leave really early Saturday morning to fly to her semi-final interview in Atlanta. We drove to Charleston and stayed overnight. We made it fun; celebrating her accomplishment. As we walked her to security, we smiled. We hugged. We waved. It was only 36 hours, but that 36 hours could change our whole next year and, possibly, her whole life.
We picked her up the next day. Samantha was full of stories about her time with the other semi-finalists. She had already made amazing friends. She loved every person she met. It thrilled us to hear her excitement, to see her achievement, to share her adventure. Of course, it also scared us! What if she wasn’t given a scholarship? How hard would she crash? How would we support her through that disappointment? What if she was given a scholarship? How hard would it be to let her go?
The waiting. It was so hard to wait for that call. The days slowly moved by. That day on the calendar looming over us. Samantha had an interview weekend for the boarding school. I remember this day so clearly. It was a Friday afternoon and a bit cloudy outside. We were all excited to go to the interview. Samantha had just come home from school and was packing to leave. I was standing in the kitchen and my phone rang. I picked it up off the kitchen island. I saw the number and my heart skipped a beat. It was a Maine number. We only knew one number in Maine and that was CBYX. I answered the phone. It was one of the CBYX representatives. Was Samantha there? They had her called twice. She wasn’t answering her phone. They had left a message, but she hadn’t called back. Yes, she was here. Might they speak with her? Of course. I quickly walked to her room and told her CBYX was on the line for her. She took the phone and I left the room and ran to get her dad. I couldn’t bear to hear. Either way, there were going to be tears.
Her dad and I stood outside her room waiting. We heard her say, “Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Oh, OK. Yes. OK. Thank you so much. I will wait for it. Thank you so much again” and then silence. There had been a tremor in her voice. She was obviously close to tears. So much for eavesdropping. We had no idea from that conversation if it was good news or bad news. Was the emotion happy or devastated? Did we smile, or did we cry? She came out of her room crying. Her dad just asked, “What did they say?” She hugged me and yelled, “I’m going to Germany!”
That evening even as she prepared for her interview all we did was talk about Germany. What her host family might be like? When she might leave? How she was going to learn German? What she should take with her? Who else might be going? Where she might live? Where she would go to school? Actually, this was pretty much what we talked about every day until the answers came slowly over the next few months.
Her dad and I had different conversations separate from her. Was she going to be okay? Yes. She was prepared. She has a good head on her shoulders. She is smart and has common sense. Learning to cope with homesickness. Learning a new language. Living with new people in a new land. All would be experiences that would change her life. It would teach her what is important to her and who she is. CBYX and Experiment would take good care of her and we were just a phone call away, literally. Technology would allow us to text, send photos, even call occasionally.
What were we going to do without her? Wait! It was just going to be the two of us. That was actually a bit exhilarating. It would be a dry run for her going to college. We could test out all those empty nest activities. See if we liked them. Of course, I asked myself “What are we going to do without her?” many nights as we waited for departure day. There were many nights where I cried already missing her, but there was no way I was going to show her my tears. This was exciting; a once in a lifetime opportunity and she wasn’t going with guilt over my tears and sadness.
Preparing for her departure required purchases we don’t normally make. A down coat. Wool sweaters. Hats. Gloves. Long-sleeved shirts. Warm pants. We live in the deep south at the beach. We rarely buy more than one of these items every five years, if even then. Then there are things you don’t think about. Having her permanent retainer removed and replaced with a removable one. Ordering her a year’s worth of contacts and medication and trying to explain to insurance why you need to do it. Talking with the school. Making sure the district administrators are onboard. We were lucky. Samantha attended a small school in a small, mostly-rural district. The administrators were thrilled that she was going and willing to do whatever it took to make it work for her. She was missing her junior year, so she left a list of about 20 colleges she is considering. This way her dad and I could go to any presentations that might come along in our area.
The day before departure. Emotions swayed between unbelievably excited to slightly subdued to downright tearful. Samantha has the tendency to avoid the unpleasant and leaving, despite the excitement, certainly fell in that category. She was so excited to go but so sad to leave us. She put off checking her bag until the absolute bitter end. She isn’t lying when she says it was 10 pm when she realized her bag was overweight. I thought her dad was going to strangle her as we ran around trying to repack, get everything in she wanted to take, and keep it to just two bags. Maybe it was good? All that stress took our minds off the next day.
Departure day. I won’t lie. I cried in the shower. I cried on her dad’s shoulder. He looked grim but kept saying how this would be something she would never forget. The bedroom door was closed this whole time. When we stepped out, it was all smiles and excitement. The whole family went to Samantha’s favorite southern-style restaurant for one last family breakfast before she left. We all went to the airport. Her dad said goodbye at the car. He isn’t good with tears and he knew there would be some. Her sister and I walked her in. We helped her check her bag. We walked to security. Samantha had been texting with two of her CBYX friends who were already at the terminal waiting for her. We could see how excited she was to meet up with them and get this adventure started. At security, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was going to miss her so much. I started to cry. I hugged her and hugged her again. Her sister hugged her and then pushed her into line. We watched as she went through the metal detector and picked up her bags. I cried harder and hugged my older daughter who had tears in her eyes. I saw Samantha wipe tears away from her checks. She waved one last time, and she was gone.
Of course, gone but not really gone. She started texting us the minute she met up with her friends at the terminal and continued updating us during her trip to DC. When she arrived in Germany she immediately got a new SIM card for her phone and was on WhatsApp immediately. Not a day goes by she doesn’t text or send a photo of some new adventure or experience or just to say goodnight. We don’t see her or talk to her every day and we miss her, but we are sharing her adventures. Technology has made exchanges so much less daunting than when my husband and mother-in-law were exchange students in the 1980s and 1950s, respectively. Then international phone calls were REALLY expensive and letters took a long time to arrive. Now international phone calls are free thanks to phone apps like WhatsApp. Just a couple of weeks ago we had a family conference call with us here in the Carolinas, our older daughter in New Orleans, and Samantha in Germany. It is a preview of what's to come.