Last week, I shared Part 1 of Hosting a Foreign Exchange Student. Today I am sharing Part 2….
It was a Monday when we picked up Celia from the airport. We let Sky and Emma play hooky from school that day so they could accompany us to the SeaTac airport. Celia flew in with a group from her school, and it took a while for all of the students to get through customs. After waiting for about an hour with other host parents, we finally saw a flood of excited, chatting teenagers heading our way. Emma and Sky held up the sign they had made the night before, which read in big, colorful block letters, “Welcome to the USA, Celia!” We recognized her immediately, as we had been in touch through email and she had shared several photographs of herself and her family. We introduced ourselves, exchanged hugs, and headed to the car.
She was so excited. As we pulled out of the airport parking lot and onto I-5, she looked at the passing buildings and exclaimed, “I can’t believe I’m in America!!! I’m here!” I thought it would be awkward, taking this perfect stranger from another country on an hour-long drive to our home, but it wasn’t. Her English was impressive, though she did have quite an accent that took some time to get used to (and a lovely one, I might add!). We asked her questions, she asked us questions, and she took tons of pictures with her little camera (after very politely asking permission to do so!). The hour-long drive went by very quickly!
As we pulled into our driveway, she couldn’t get believe the size of our house. Now, let me be clear: our house is a pretty average-sized, American suburban house. We have 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths, and it’s around 2800 square feet. But from what I have read and heard, this is very “American.” People in Europe generally don’t live in spacious houses (so I’ve been told). Other host parents have had the same experience – that their exchange students were amazed at the size of the houses in America.
As soon as we walked in the door, we were greeted by a very excited golden retriever. Celia was so happy that we had a dog. She explained that she loved dogs and wished she could have one, but her parents didn’t want one. Luke loved her as much as she loved him, and he became her shadow for the next three weeks. It was so funny to her that we could give him commands and he would obey. She exclaimed, “I think he understands English!”
Next we gave her a house tour. First I took her upstairs to show her where she could drop her bags. I showed her Emma’s bedroom that would also be hers for the next 3 weeks, the bed she would be sleeping in, the closet half that was cleared out especially for her, the laundry room where she could put her dirty clothes, the kids’ bathroom, and how to operate the shower. Then I took her downstairs to show her the living room, the half-bath, and Andy’s office. I showed her the kitchen, and opened the refrigerator and pantry and told her to help herself whenever she wanted.
She said she wasn’t hungry, but was very exhausted (she had left Paris almost 24 hours earlier, and had only been able to sleep on the plane), so I encouraged her to go take a nap until dinner time. She went to Emma’s room, closed the door, and we didn’t hear a sound from her for a couple of hours! It was a typical cold, wet, winter day in western Washington, and I had started a hearty beef stew that morning and left it cooking slowly in the oven while we were gone. She came downstairs just as I finished setting the table.
When we sat around the table to eat, I told her that we always say a short prayer before our meals. She said that in France, they always say, “bon appetit!” before eating, so we decided we would add her tradition to ours. It was pretty cool, because that became a new family tradition for us – our prayer followed by “bon appetit!” She seemed to really like the beef stew and homemade bread I served, and ate like she was starving! (She probably was by this point!)
After dinner, she said she had some gifts for us from her parents. We sat down in the living room, and she lavished us with all kinds of wonderful goodies from France. I was astonished by the generosity of her parents – they sent us Lindt chocolates in a beautiful keepsake box, mints, souvenir coffee mugs, a souvenir apron, souvenir T-shirts, body lotion, lavender mist, compact mirrors with the Eiffel tower on them, an oven mitt with a map of Paris printed on it – they had even thought of our grandchildren, and sent them little Eiffel tower charms! Each gift was beautifully wrapped in bright colored tissue paper and tied with silky ribbon. It was a very, very kind gesture, and completely unexpected!
By this time it was close to 9:00 PM, and she and Sky needed to get up early for school the next day. The ANDEO group made it very clear to the host parents that we needed to send our students to school the next day after their arrival, even though they would be tired and adjusting to a 9-hour time change. They said it was essential that the foreign exchange students got settled into their new routine as soon as possible. Celia was surprised to learn that Sky had to catch the school bus at 6:45 AM, which seemed extremely early to her! The schools start later in Paris – but she was happy to learn that school was out at 2:00 PM here. She said that in France, because of the later start time and a long commute on a train and a bus, she wasn’t home until it was dark.
The next 3 weeks of her stay were a whirlwind of activity, as we tried to show Celia our town and the surrounding areas, and give her as much of an “American experience” as we could in 3 short weeks.
To be continued…