Stranger in the house. Awkward. Uncomfortable.
That is how someone who has never hosted an exchange student might describe the experience.It was true for my family a few years ago. If anyone would have told me that I would be bringing a fifteen year old Armenian boy into my home full of teenage girls, I would have thought that is crazy! Luckily for us, my new job as a coordinator led us toward hosting and our new son changed our family forever.
That is not to say that it all happened instantly and magically. Like the roller coaster of life, it is a process with ups and downs. Sometimes it is a thrill, sometimes you wonder what have you gotten yourself into. It is pretty much all the normal feelings you have while raising teenagers. One example is when he first arrived. It drove me crazy that he would leave his socks under my coffee table rather than put them in his hamper. I was new to hosting and did not realize that it meant he felt at home enough to leave them there. It has been two years since he has gone home. Now I sometimes look under that table and wish his dirty socks were still there. I was not always proud of how my children behaved as they
learned to share their living space, parents, friends, school, and pets with this new person. I think it may have been more of an adjustment for the girls than for him! Learning about their similarities and differences and the life lessons they gained while becoming siblings was worth it all. Many nights when it was long past a reasonable time for them to be asleep on a school night, I would hear them upstairs giggling. I secretly smiled at their whispers and laughter just before I yelled at them to get back in their rooms. Hearing them laugh together (even when it was at my expense!) was one of my favorite sounds. I wish I could say the exact moment that he became our son, but it doesn’t work like that. It is gradual, it sneaks up on you. I guess I was previously wrong, it is magical. It just hits you one day when you are asking him why the garbage is not out yet and he gives you a lame excuse just like your other kids do and you realize that you forgot that you didn’t actually give birth to that one. The one with the accent, that looks so different from your family, yet everyone in town knows he is yours.
Hosting has changed my family for the better in ways I could not have imagined. We are now ‘repeat offenders’, hosting the last three years, including more kids from Armenia and Spain. It has opened up the world to us, teaching us about people from other cultures and the history of other countries. We have been to places we never thought we would visit. My oldest daughter spent a summer in Armenia. I have traveled to Armenia to visit my son and meet his parents and family. Another daughter spent a summer visiting our daughter from Spain. She also traveled to Portugal and Germany. We have learned about different holidays. I have learned to cook different foods such as paklava (not baklava!) and Spanish omelets. My pantry has foods in it from several different countries with packaging that I cannot read. The worst thing about hosting is the goodbyes at the airport when a piece of your heart is about to get on the plane and you realize how short ten months actually is. I like it much better when it is the natural parents who are the ones missing ‘our’ children. Until a few years ago, I had never heard of FLEX. I am grateful to the program for bringing my children from far away places and joining our families together from one continent to another.
Words that describe what it is actually like to host: Our child /sibling. Smaller world. Someone you love, more than you ever expected.
By Amy York
Host Mother of Arman Azizyan ’11