I have been brewing over the idea of one day hosting a student for what seemed like an eternity. YES, an eternity...
In the 7th grade, back in the day before email, Snapchat, WhatsApp and the plethora of digital connectivity mediums, I met a Japanese student visiting our middle school. We exchanged mailing addresses and began a pen-pal adventure that lasted until college. Throughout our hundreds of letters, a whole new way of looking at the world presented itself to me. As such, I proceeded to go out of my way to make friends with any and all foreign exchange students in my path. I sought them out at the mall, street fairs, even at Disneyland where they were always in a group trying to find someone to take their picture. In school, I could spot them a ball court away during welcome assemblies in the gymnasium.
Once I was old enough, I would drive to my hometown beach, to “casually” make friends with anyone with an accent chilling on the seawall right outside what was probably the grungiest beachfront property at the time; the youth hostel. In college I signed up to be a student mentor for the international students on campus. Finally, as a full-fledged adult running her own company, somehow, I managed to always have an international college intern as part of my staff. Some people dream of their weddings, that awesome job, maybe buying a house… I dreamed of hosting an exchange student.
Like many dreams though, this was one was mine alone, and truthfully, never fully shared with anyone as much more than casual hypothetical mentions. However, when it came time to discuss with my partner that I really wanted to do this, for a school year, it didn’t surprise him. Don’t misunderstand me, it was not an easy consideration, but it has probably been one of the most thorough decisions we have made together. We have both spent the 10+ years we have shared together steeped in career driven decisions and for the most part, enjoying a life free of the responsibility that it is to be liable for another life… a young, impressionable, complicated, and among many other things, a foreign teenage life. Nothing that we do is “kid friendly,” we have fancy vacations planned, independent schedules are booked clear into 2020 and I, certainly can’t help anyone with math homework past an IPhone calculator level. Kidding aside, preparations to be a host mom & dad have been more emotionally involved than originally thought and if anything incredibly unifying.
What started out as just making decisions over paint colors for their bedroom and potential weekend road trips, developed into deep conversations about sexual education, emotional welfare, and social ideologies we hadn't even taken the time to share with each other previously. Being that this teenager will rely on us to help her understand the new world around her and likley will face vast situations without notice, we need to be prepared to be a resource with a consistant message that provides both safety and support, while encouraging autonomy without shame or doubt. Certianly we can't anticipate the situations we will face together much less what she will face outside her freshly painted room, but the hope is that she will develop trust in us both and mostly, herself!
None of the letters that I exchanged with my Japanese pen-pal or the hours helping international college students navigate the class catalog could have prepared me for what has already become a path of growth as a family. It seems surreal that our student doesn't even arrive for another week and already we are reaping the benefits of the experience. All that dreaming about hosting an exchange student never included thoughts of the emotional preparations we'd have to make, together or individually, but it certainly, has us looking forward to the year ahead!