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On Being a Host Family and Sending Your 16 Year Old to a Family You Don’t Know, Yet.

Working in Intercultural Education is one thing. Involving your family directly in it~is another.

Here, our past President, Bettina Wiedmann, from Experiment e.V., writes about her experience being a host family: Farewell – but certainly not forever

This past weekend (June 2, 2014) we brought our American host daughter Sarah to Frankfurt Airport. Her exchange year is over and with it our first experience as a so-called “long-term host family” (Sarah stayed with us for one school year). To cut a long story short: It was a fantastic experience and we can recommend it without any hestitation.

 When we decided to become a host family in June, my prevailing wish was to give something back. 20 years ago, a US family in Arlington, Virginia had chosen to host me for a school year and by doing so, made it possible for me to have the time of my life. When Experiment Germany suggested that we host Sarah from Lexington, Virginia, it felt right from the very beginning.

 From my daily work at Experiment Germany, my family and I knew that host families ideally not only open their homes but also their hearts. Still, our expectations were exceeded by far in so many ways.

 We have not only given something back, but we have actually gained so much more: Emilia now has a big sister who taught her to count in English, who has baked cake for her birthday and who is now “skyping” with her on a regular basis. During the time that Sarah stayed with us, my husband and I had a second daughter who helped with everyday challenges (“Sorry, I’m late. Sarah, can you please quickly get milk and eggs?”). And we got a taste of how it could be to have an adult daughter All of us have learned a lot during this time together, especially when it comes to intercultural communication, and all of us have so many good and precious memories that no one can ever take away from us. In short, Sarah has become a member of our family that we have come to know and love over the last 9 months.

 This means of course that the last few weeks of her stay with us were not free of some melancholy. The last days before Sarah’s departure were marked by “last times”: the last time going to our favourite Korean restaurant together, the last time making waffles, the last time picking Emilia up from kindergarten, the last time watching a movie with Paul from Ecuador and Sarah’s best (German) friend Jill – and then the last breakfast together before we had to drive to Frankfurt airport. We all tried very hard not to be too sentimental, but when we finally had to say “goodbye” at the security gate, the tears just started flowing.

 And we realized that this is what happens when you open your house AND your heart – you will also become more vulnerable. Yet, despite these tears when saying good-bye, joy and gratitude far outweigh the sadness: We are so grateful that we were allowed to have Sarah with us for a school year. And we are already looking forward to when we meet again.

(please note: this was originally written in German)

 

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Here, our Director, Polli Moryl, writes about being the parent of a student on an Experiment program: What I want for my 16 year old…

I work professionally in international education. I work in an field that specializes in people leaving their home and discovering a new place, its culture and its people. I work with wonderful colleagues who offer programs around the world and all of them involve a home stay. This is a wonderful thing but it is a bit different- when it is YOUR child leaving home and going. 

We have always traveled with our kids: New Zealand and 23 hours of air travel with two kids under 5- no problem. A cross country trip in a van from Massachusetts to LA- got it!  Seven years worth of flights over the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina- ok!  Months away living on a sail boat with my children…none of this worried me. Lots of work- yes, but worry no.

Then, I encouraged my 16 year old to apply for an Experiment program this summer . He applied here: (www.experimentinternational.org) and was received on the marine biology program here: (www.lamatmexico.org.). I wanted him to experience being abroad by himself. 

I trust my son implicitly. I trust the program he is on, I rely on his group leaders and I know their safety policies. Still, trusting that it will all turn out okay is a bit of a challenge. You have to keep your fears on a leash- a tight leash and not let your imagination take over. 

What I want for my 16 year old son is (and what I imagine all those other parents at orientation want for their children as well) : a broader sense of the world and how he fits into it, an appreciation that even though customs and living arrangements might be different- there are good people just living their lives EVERYWHERE, a deep trust in himself- that he can handle new situations with confidence and grace, a chance to practice his Spanish some more, I want his host family to treat him like one of their own, I want him to feel independent within the confines of a well organized program, I want him to be able to swim with sea lions and visit Mayan ruins, I want him to have a wonderful time and return home safe and sound.

I want him to be aware of how lucky he is.

I didn’t go anywhere and yet, through his traveling  and safe return~I am more aware of how very lucky I am.

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