What’s With the Signs and Balloons at the Airport?

Tomorrow, July 30th, is arrival day for our first group of students, the “camper kids” – the exchange students who have been at an optional language and culture camp before joining their host families.  The campers come to the U.S. several weeks to a month earlier than non-campers and tomorrow the first group will be leaving their two-week camp to head for their new homes.  Shortly before noon Pacific time, excited and nervous kids will begin to arrive at the Portland airport to start their high school semester or year in this country.  They will be met by people they have never met.  They may not even have spoken to their host families; perhaps the only communication has been an email or two.  Yet these strangers will meet these nervous, hesitant teens with excited happy screams, welcoming balloons or signs, open arms, and the kind of the enthusiasm usually reserved for members of one’s family.

In fact, in a way these teens *are* members of these strangers’ families.  By the stroke of a pen – well, and some required paperwork, of course – these students are now part of their new host families for up to 10 months.  These “stranger” mothers will register their new sons or daughters at high school, make sure they brush their teeth, and worry when they go out at night.  These “stranger” dads will transport them to soccer practice, make sure they eat their vegetables, and take them to a football game.  These “stranger” brothers and sisters will take them around town, show them the local sights, introduce them to the American concept of front-seat rivalry known as “shotgun,” and squabble over who gets the X-box first.

Easy, right? Well…not exactly.  There’s a bit of an untraveled road to discover first, and there may be some potholes along the way.  But there’s fun and excitement in that road of discovery, and an unparalleled opportunity to share one’s life and culture.  Let’s get to it! The 2011-2012 year begins!

Hello from the Exchange Mom

I’m a local exchange program coordinator.  My husband and I work with teenaged exchange students between the ages of 15-18 who come to the United States for one semester or a full academic year to live with an American family and go to high school here.  We help find host families, “match” students to a family, and supervise/guide/mentor students and host families during the exchange year.  We’re also a host family ourselves, having shared our home with close to a dozen students over the last eight years.

Two weeks ago, I Skyped with one of our new “supervisees” – a high school exchange student from Italy, getting ready to leave a few hours later to start his year-long adventure to the United States.

And in that ordinary conversation with a boy and his mother, it hit me.  In just a few hours, while I would be comfortably sitting on my deck in the sunshine, or walking one of the dogs and relaxing, he would get up in the dark at 2 AM, leave his home to head for Rome, and from there fly into the unknown.  How many of us could have done the same when we were 15, 16, or 17?

So I would like to start off my own new blog adventure with thanks to the people who have made this all possible:

To our new students — the ones we are supervising this year and the ones who will live with us in our home – welcome!

To the parents who are sending their children off into our care — thank you for your faith in us.  We will do our best to guide them.

To the host parents who are opening their homes to the thousands of teenaged exchange students headed this way and to the former host families with whom we have worked — many thanks for sharing your world and life with someone you have met only on paper or through a few awkward emails.

And last — but never, never last! — to our former students, both the ones we’ve supervised and the ones who have lived in our home and who are now members of our own extended family — thank you for being you and always reminding us what it’s all about.

Welcome to the world of high school foreign exchange students, their host families, and their families back home.  We’ll be posting throughout the exchange year on issues related to the students’ settling-in process, offer tips on how to help them adjust, and suggest ways to develop a relationship that will hopefully last far longer than the 5 or 10 months that the students live in the U.S.  Visit us here on our blog, and join us on the adventure.

–Laura, the Exchange Mom