Back to school
By Sarah Harmon
When I was in high school, I always loved befriending foreign exchange students. I never would have guessed that ten years after graduation, I would be the host mom of one of them.
Wandering around the Riverwalk Festival in July 2013, I stopped at a booth for an organization that sponsored exchange students coming to America. It turned out I was the minimum age for a host parent, and there was a girl that it looked like would be a good fit. I thought for a few days before deciding to go for it. In that time, the girl I had wanted found another family, but the program director had a profile of a Chinese girl she thought might work. I took a look at Xuan, not expecting to be impressed since I’m more interested in European culture than Asian.
Decisions like this should never be made lightly. You are committing to putting a lot of energy and countless hours into helping this student to experience America for almost ten months. After talking to friends and family at length about if Xuan was the right girl and if I was insane enough to do this, considering I was single with two jobs plus volunteer work, I went for it. There are a lot of things you take for granted that you never truly understand until you see your home through someone else’s eyes. For instance, living in a big city in China, Xuan had never been up close to horses, goats, or pigs. I thought she was crazy when she said you weren’t supposed to touch farm animals. We have petting zoos everywhere!
Holidays were another whole new experience. It’s hard for us to imagine meeting Santa for the first time as a 16 year old. Xuan didn’t know what to ask for, so she jokingly chose a unicorn. She left some excellent homemade cookies out for him, and Christmas morning, Santa brought her a toy unicorn. The look on her face was priceless. Old holiday traditions suddenly seem a lot less cheesy when you know this kid will only get one chance in her life to do them.
It was a lot of work, mostly because I wanted to be Supermom and do a thousand things with her. (She has the 107 page scrapbook to prove it!) Yes, we had our struggles (she hated American food), but overall I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Xuan cried all the way to the airport in June, and I cried the whole drive home. Despite saying I would take a year off, right now I’m cleaning up Xuan’s old room to welcome Eva from Austria this Sunday. It’s going to be another crazy year of hosting, but I’m looking forward to every minute of it.
Copyright (c) 2014 story by Sarah Harmon