A Host Family's Story
by Denise DuBarry Hay
Making the Decision
Every once in a while, something will attract my attention that I’d never, ever thought about before. Maybe I’ll file it away in my head for future consideration, or maybe I’ll discard it instantly as useless.
But sometimes that rogue idea or concept will wrap itself into my brain until I’m compelled to act on it in some way, if for no other reason than to get it out of my head. Such was the case when I responded to a story about the need for host families for foreign guest students.
It wasn’t an interest born of an empty-nest syndrome. To the contrary, my nest overfloweth, if you will. My best guess is that the idea of having a young person from a very different culture as part of our daily lives for a while would be an opportunity for growth that we as a family hadn’t experienced before.
Before I brought the idea to my personal board of directors (Bill, Kyle, Adam and Whitney), I filled out the paperwork and was sent bios and photos of prospective guest students. Only then did I broach the subject at the next board meeting, always conducted around the dinner table at our house.
Bill’s response was most encouraging and pragmatic, “We’re parents anyway. We set the table for five already. What difference does one more plate make?”
Whitney liked the idea of having a big sister, and the boys reacted in character—“Sure, why not? Whatever.”
How It Works
Britta, 16, arrived in January from her home just outside of Stuttgart, Germany, and lived with us while she attended classes at Marywood-Palm Valley through June. She is one of thousands of students who are part of study abroad programs administered by CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) in more than 35 host countries.
One of the organization’s goals is to foster understanding and trust of different cultures through first-hand experience. CIEE provides orientation for host families and MWPV helped with providing uniforms.
There are no two ways about it. We lucked out. Britta is neat, organized, responsible and talented, and those qualities have already rubbed off, to varying degrees, on our progeny. She is technologically proficient, advanced in some areas (I mean, she uses SKYPE—wow!), and we have “met” her family through Facebook. Whitney, in fact, is ready for a trip to Germany this summer.
From what I observed at a gathering we organized for other host families, this quality of exchange student is not unusual. They are all interesting kids, adventurous and smart. (Britta was off-the-charts excited about going wi th us to Hawaii …another place she got to experience.) And because CIEE’s philosophy leans toward a total immersion experience, these guests—mostly juniors, considered the magic year in the learning process—do not expect to call home every day. They are chosen, in part, for their independent spirits. Families do not have to be parents of a high schooler to host a guest student.
Our family life was enhanced in so many ways. We learned bits and pieces of another culture and language, at the same time becoming aware of some of the oddities of our own when seen through Britta’s eyes. We are the proud owners of new, hand-crafted friendship bracelets and can say we’ve heard some unique vocal and instrumental stylings in the universal language of music, as realized through Guitar Hero—a bonding experience for everyone involved.
The question I get asked most is “Do I have to entertain this person for six months?” The answer is evident. No. But you do have to want to be entertained, and enriched beyond what you might imagine.