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How I Became a Student Exchange Mom & Host Mom - Part I of My Exchange Experience

Today's post feels fitting due to the fact that it's November 8th...and yes, we did hug our exchange student!!

I get a lot of questions about how we got into hosting exchange students, and lately everyone asks how it happened that we sent our 15yr old son off for a year to do his own student exchange in France. (Update: he turned 16 in France this Fall.)

It started just about 7 years ago with the Chair of our local Rotary Youth Exchange asking if we'd consider hosting a high school exchange student from Spain. At that time, my own kids were very young...around 6 & 8, and I declined based on the fact that I didn't think we had the kind of lifestyle a young European kid would be looking to experience here (early bedtimes, etc.) The school year went by and we put it out of our heads.

That Summer we spent 6 weeks kicking around the UK, France, and Iceland before coming home right before school started, to find we were being asked again, urgently, if we could provide temporary housing for another exchange student, Jasson, from Romania. He was arriving in a few days and our Rotary district had offered to try to place him (since the district that had previously accepted him had to cancel with no notice.) Our guest room was available, we jumped through all the hoops, background checks, letters of recommendations, and agreed he could stay with us for a week or 2 until they had things figured out.

Mother's Day 2014
We loved him instantly. It sounds a bit crazy, but we did. He was charming, smart and sweet, loved our goofy kids as much as they loved him, was meticulous about everything, and was honest and funny (he would FaceTime his dog!) I think it must have been hard for him to be all of those things when he was jet-lagged, tired, and nervous about where he would be living, yet he was. He stayed with us until Christmas, moved to a 2nd host family until Easter, then came back to us for the rest of his exchange year. We didn't realize it at the time, but he made a big impact on our son, who very much looked up to him as a big brother.

2 years after he left, we visited Jasson and his wonderful family in Romania, while spending few weeks in Eastern Europe. It was such a beautiful reunion, and so fun to see Jasson maturing into a young man in college!
In Romania Summer 2017

When, 2 years later, we were asked to host again, we all worried that we couldn't love another exchange student as much as we had loved Jasson. (It was very much like that fear of having your 2nd child!) We needn't have worried. Jérôme from Belgium was older (18) but so were the kids by now (12 and almost 15) and again, we loved him and he fit right into our family. Jérôme was with us for the entire year with the exception of 2 weeks when we host a French exchange teacher every year. Being closer in age, and spending so much time together, the kids all really bonded. Charlotte loved having (now 3) older brothers. We had the pleasure of meeting Jérôme's family, who we absolutely loved, and we hope to visit them Summer 2020 while we are back in Europe.

What I should have seen coming was that our hosting would plant the seed in Julien's mind that he wanted to experience his own student exchange year. He spoke with Rotary and started his own application process (which took almost a year start to finish!) In order for our district to send out a student, they told us we'd have to agree to host again this year.

Flash forward to Summer 2019, where we said our tearful goodbyes to Jérôme at the airport, followed by a surprise visit from Jasson and his mom from Romania, welcomed Maggie from Denmark, and with much trepidation, sent Julien off to the south of France for his Junior year of high school.

Boston Summer 2019
Our exchange student from Denmark
We have been so lucky to host kids who feel like family to us, and lucky that our son has wonderful host families in France. We have met not only the kids we've hosted, but the students from other countries here on exchange (Fabiana from Bolivia, Pedro from Spain, Mathieu from Belgium, Ludovica and Andrea from Italy, Loïc from France) and met new families from Connecticut whose children have completed their exchanges or are out on them now like Julien. Our circle has grown wider. Julien's circle continues to grow as he meets new friends from around the globe while living in France.

Being apart from my teenage son is every bit as hard as I imagined it would be. I worry about if he's lonely, if he's understanding the teachers in school, if anyone can read his cursive writing (since he's never been taught and they don't use computers in his French school like they do here.) I've broken down in tears in front of the burrito section at the grocery store more than once. I miss his constant guitar and piano-playing, his singing, his music, his playing games or hatching plans with his sister, watching Parks & Rec reruns, and even his friends. It's so much quieter here. Confession time...I don't miss his laundry! That boy goes through SO many towels and clothes.

Having Maggie here has been a blessing. Charlotte finally gets a sister! Of the 3 students we've hosted, her English might have been the best upon arrival. She is sweet, kind, helpful, and fun to be around! Being a 16 yr old girl in a new school in a new country is a big adjustment. It can be overwhelming for these kids, and I think they're so brave to take on the experience, so far away from their support systems. It's not the same as our kids who go off to college. They're not going home for the holidays, and they're expected to change host families 3 times during their year here, in order to get a wide range of experiences.

Hosting has meant doing a lot of fun tourist stuff with the kids too! We've taken the kids to New York City, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia, Newport, Vermont, New Hampshire, Cape Cod, as well as upstate New York. We've done museums, concerts, parks, science museums, escape rooms, hikes, football games, biking, aquariums, amusements parks, golf & mini-golf, and lots and lots of shopping! Rotary has activities for the kids to do as well, which in the past have included trips to New York City, ski trips, weekends at a beach house, group orientation weekends, etc. I have to say hosting has been a great experience for us! My family has grown in ways I didn't expect, and I'm grateful for it.

What have I learned from my exchange experience? Come back for Part II.


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