I would like to share a little story about how I became a “cool American mother”.
Last July, my friend Danelle sent me a Facebook message, asking if I would be interested in hosting a foreign exchange student. I had never considered hosting before that but was fond of the idea ever since my experience with an exchange student I knew when I was a teenager. I was instantly interested but I needed a lot more information before making such a huge commitment. I mean… I already have THREE kids of my own and a business to run! It’s not like I’m bored! And I also knew convincing my husband, who does not jump to changes easily, would be a next-to-impossible feat. I spoke on the phone with a woman named Tracy, the PAX program coordinator for my area, and gathered all the information I needed in order to decide I really want to do this. When I approached my husband with the idea I explained to him the reasons why I was so interested in doing this: To give an invaluable opportunity to a high school student; to bring another culture into our home; and to teach our kids to welcome, love, and accept someone who looks different, thinks different, sounds different, believes different than we do. All while helping to bridge the gap between our country and others. After a long pause, he replied, “Hmm……. hmmm….” and then repeated that for about 10 minutes straight before finally saying, “… Ok.” He later told me that he kept coming up with reasons to say “NO WAY”, but none of them were good enough reasons… so he decided to let me go with my gut and take the leap.
So we started the process. It requires background checks and face to face interviews and home inspections to get approved to host. Then our coordinator sent a slew of student applications to review and choose from. The applications include the student’s name, age, gender, country, interests, diet restrictions and/or allergies (if applicable), and a letter from the student to their potential host family. Holy cow! There are so many amazing kids out there, it’s really hard to choose just one! But we did it! We finally narrowed it down to one. Minseo, a 17-year-old girl from South Korea. We submitted our choice and with nervous butterflies in our stomachs, we waited to hear from her.
When she finally sent that first email, it was so exciting! We scheduled a time to video chat on Skype — which was a little tricky since South Korea is 13 hours ahead of us. That video chat was extremely awkward. We were complete strangers… trying to have a conversation through our computers… and her English was not good. But we made it through and not too long after that, we were picking her up from the airport and driving her home. She instantly took to the kids, who at that time were ages 7, 5 and 3. We had just over a week to get everything in order before school started. Our area coordinator got her registered with the high school but I was responsible for making sure everything else was lined up. It was stressful because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and there were many moments when I honestly felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew — But somehow, we got everything done and she started school! Wow… suddenly I had a high schooler in my house! It didn’t take long before her English started to improve. I know it was a huge struggle for her at first — she was so quiet and shy. But she immediately started making new friends. All the kids at school were so kind and welcoming. It made my heart happy to see such acceptance!
At home, as her English improved, she was also thrown into another language which she seemingly had never even heard of: SARCASM. Apparently, they don’t use any form of sarcasm in South Korea and the poor girl spent a good majority of the first few months immensely confused! As the days, weeks, months flew by, we grew more and more comfortable together. We talked through heart breaks, celebrated triumphs and argued over the true definition of a “selfie”. Somewhere along the way, it started feeling like she was a member of the family and not just some random person sleeping in the spare room of our house. She thoroughly enjoyed celebrating some of our favorite holidays with us — carving pumpkins, dressing up for Halloween and going Trick-or-treating in the neighborhood; chowing down on a Thanksgiving feast; partaking in all the Christmas Holiday decorating and activities. When spring came around, I got to take her prom dress shopping! And I learned that it’s not a good idea to book my middle child’s birthday party on the same day as prom! That made the day a lot more hectic and stressful than I would have preferred, but we made it work… barely! When her date (just a friend) and his mom arrived to pick her up, he was SO sweet! He brought ME chocolates and opened the car door for her. He was a perfect gentleman! They drove off to meet with friends for dinner and Prom and danced the night away! She had the time of her life! I swear she came home, late that night, on cloud 9! When the end of the school year came around, the high school allowed her to participate in the graduation ceremonies, for the full American High School experience, even though she technically didn’t get to graduate. My husband and I attended the ceremony and watched her walk across the stage in her cap and gown. A couple days before her departure date, she had a Farewell party at our house. We had pizza, cake, water balloons, badminton and 25 to 30 teenagers in our back yard. And that was only the number of friends who could actually make it to the party! She made so many wonderful friends. She changed and grew up so much during her stay with us. She made me proud to be her host mom!
On her final night in the U.S.A., I took her out to Grand Mere State Park — just the two of us — and did an official photo session. It almost didn’t happen because it started POURING rain. But, thankfully, the rain stopped just long enough for us to get out there and shoot. When we came back home she played one last board game with daddy and Max before going to bed. Board games had become a traditional weekend activity for the three of them.
The next day was THE day. It just happened to be Father’s Day. We had a pancake breakfast, she packed up the last few items, and we headed to the airport. She handed me 5 envelopes with letters for each of us inside to read after she left. Her words made us laugh, cry and warmed our hearts. In her letter to me, she thanked me for being her “cool American mother” — and I will be keeping it forever, as proof to my kids that I am, in fact, cool!
Minseo is back in South Korea now, with her biological family. Staying quite busy from what I hear. She seems to be in great spirits and doing well. We love her and wish her all the happiness and success in the world!
For a well thought out list of how hosting a student can benefit you and your family, check out THIS ARTICLE. If you have any questions for me, ask away! I’ll be happy to answer.
I will be totally honest: There were many times throughout this experience when I asked, “what did I get myself into?” and seriously questioned my ability to pull it off. Being responsible for another kid is not to be taken lightly. But for us, it was worth it! And we are just crazy enough to do it all over again! This August we will welcome another foreign exchange student into our home. But more on that later. Until then, please enjoy these photos of my beautiful South Korean daughter, Minseo, at Grand Mere State Park, on her last night in the U.S.A.!