I never pictured myself as a host mom.
Don’t get me wrong: I always admired the families who took in foreign exchange students. I just figured you had to really have your act together and practically be a perfect mom and wife – and have a perfect home – before you could possibly invite a student from another country to come live with you and your family!
Well, in spite of my delusions, last spring I did the unthinkable….I became a host mom!
I have been anxious to share my story with others, but when I started writing about it, I realized I had way too much to say for just one blog post. Therefore, I am breaking it up into parts. I hope you enjoy reading, and I hope I will encourage you to open your home to a foreign exchange student if that is something you are interested in doing.
Let me first of all share an important lesson I learned: you don’t have to be perfect. ;)
How it All Began
In the early summer of 2013, I received an email from Sky’s high school asking if we would be interested in hosting a foreign exchange student from Europe. They were looking for families to host students from France or Spain on a short-term basis. The student would be matched to our family’s interests, and would “shadow” our 10th grader at high school and whatever extracurricular activities she was involved in. He or she would temporarily become part of our family – like having another son or daughter. Honestly, it was not something I had ever thought of me doing before – but when the opportunity was put before me, I started thinking about what a neat experience it could be. After talking with Andy and finding that he felt the same way, I wrote back and said we were interested.
Little did I know how quickly I would get a response! Within a week, I received a call from ANDEO International Homestays, and was asked if we could host a student from France or Spain – and they had students on a waiting list, ready to come in next month! I just wasn’t ready. I apologized and said that we had summer vacation plans, and just weren’t able to do it at the time. After that, I kind of forgot about it.
Shortly after Thanksgiving weekend, I received another call from ANDEO asking if we were now ready to host a student. (They don’t forget, lol!) Again, I talked about it with Andy, and we figured if we were ever going to do it, why not now? The next step was talking to our kids, and they were all open – actually excited – about volunteering. I called ANDEO back and said yes, we were ready. They directed us to sit down as a family and fill out an online application and a lengthy questionnaire about our interests to help them pick a good match for us. We did so, and with a little nervous anticipation, I clicked the “send” button.
Fast-forward to the first Saturday after New Year’s Day. We welcomed a woman from ANDEO inside our house to do a “home study.” It was exciting – and a little intimidating! She interviewed each of us, and we gave her a thorough tour (walk-through) of our house. Although the she was very polite, in some ways it felt like an interrogation. We were asked so many questions about our family lifestyle, habits, and relationships. We were even asked if we serve alcohol to our teens and their friends. I felt that was an obvious “NO” but apparently that’s not always the answer they get! We were told that they would be conducting a full criminal background check, and we had to give the names and contact numbers of several friends as references. It didn’t really bother me, though – I couldn’t imagine sending my own child to a foreign country to live with strangers – and if I did, I would want to be assured that the family my child would be living with was completely trustworthy!
Since we had 2 school-aged daughters (one in 10th grade, one in 7th – our son is in college), we requested a girl. We don’t have a spare bedroom, but our 12-year-old-daughter Emma has bunk beds in her room, so we knew it would be easy to set up another girl to share her room and sleep in the bottom bunk bed.
It’s a Girl!
Only a few days after the home visit, we received an email that our foreign exchange student – a 15-year-old French girl named Celia – was arriving in 3 weeks! I couldn’t believe it was happening all so fast! We quickly started getting the house ready – I had Emma empty out half her closet (we simply put some toys and summer clothes in boxes) so that Celia could have room for her things and not have to live out of a suitcase. I planned all our daily meals and jotted them down in my planner. Then we had a “family meeting” and brainstormed ideas of things we could do and places we could go with Celia while she was here. We would only be hosting her for 3 weeks, and we wanted to give her as great of an “American experience” in that short time as we could!