Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our Foreign Exchange Students - A Cultural Experience

Over the past number of years we have been host parents to several foreign exchange students. 

While we lived in the farm house, our home was not well set up to have anybody else living with us.  The extra bedroom (it was actually a loft) required walking through my youngest daughter's room to access or even go to the bathroom -- not ideal for her or for any guest for that matter. 

One summer in the early nineties, we were approached by another couple.  Could we possibly take a student for a weekend while they were away?  We explained the situation.  It was only a weekend, no big deal.  And thus Yuko entered our lives.  Yuko was a grade 11, Japanese student attending a local private school.  That summer, she elected to stay with us for the months of July and August.  The goal was to improve her English skills through living with a Canadian family.

We had her back periodically throughout the year on holiday weekends, when the boarding school closed up.  When she went off to University she would often email me her essays.  I would make suggestions and help with her grammar and spelling.  I thoroughly enjoyed the editing process, although she always seemed to send them on nights when I was trying to meet deadlines for my own university studies.

Yuko visited several times throughout her university career.  Unfortunately we have lost contact with her.  I believe she is back in Japan, but am not certain.  Her name does not come up in Facebook.  I guess we'll just have to wait for her to contact us.

We bought our new home in 2008.  Suddenly we had all the extra space we needed to be host parents once more.  One morning we were listening to the radio and the plea came over the air for host families for the Canada World Youth program which was coming to our hometown that fall.


We made the call and were quickly set up with two young ladies, one from Peru and her Canadian counterpart from southern Ontario.  The goal of this program was to spend three months in Ontario (so the Peruvians could learn English) and then three months in Peru (so the Canadians could learn Spanish).  During this time, the students spent their time doing volunteer work for various organizations in both communities.  Our two girls were placed with United Way, stuffing envelopes and whatever other tasks they were assigned.  Those three months were a wonderful experience and hooked us on having other young people living in our home.  We became the hub home, where a lot of the other pairs met in the evening.  One pair of young fellows from just down the road, spent nearly every evening with our girls.  There did seem to be a strong attraction between the two Canadian counterparts!

It was a very cold and sad morning when we said goodbye to our new friends as they boarded the bus to meet the plane that would take them to Peru.  We still get visits from our Canadian lass (and the Canadian boy from up the road) on occasion.  We also keep in contact on Facebook with some of the Peruvian contigent.

Next we met Annia from Mexico.  She and her mother, sister and cousin arrived for a weekend just after Christmas that same winter.  I think the family was hesitant to send the much loved daughter so far from home without knowing who she would be living with for the next six months.  Annia was a lovely, quiet girl who loved to smile and laugh at the antics of our daughters.  She very quickly assimilated into the family.  Again, she contacts us frequently via Facebook.

The school year 2009/2010, saw us with another new girl from China.  Unfortunately this one was not a remarkable experience as she had no desire be a part of our family.  We were also still dealing with dialup internet service, which was not ideal for a tech saavy (translate: internet addicted) individual.  She was to have been with us two years, but we felt she would be better suited living in town in more of a boarding situation.

It was with a little hesitation, we accepted another Asian student, when the Canada Homestay organization contacted us.  We were afraid of history repeating itself.  And then another call came -- did we have room for a Korean girl as well as the one from China.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  This is not a decision we have regretted at all.  We have two very diverse girls with us this year, one a most serious student, the other a fun-loving free spirit.  Both girls are in grade 11 and will, in all probability, be with us next year as well.  This fall, when our eldest daughter left the nest, it was good to have two more teens in the house.  No of course they can never replace her, but they do add a certain flair and international flavour to our family gatherings.

I enjoy most, the evenings when we can sit around the table after supper and discuss the issues or ideas of the day.  You know the deeply philosophical questions of life:  "What does a rooster say in China (woo-woo-wooh), and in Korea (coo-co-dek)" or how to find the perfect billionaire husband.  It's all very interesting to see the struggles that these youngsters go through as they learn a new language, a new culture and still endeavour to be teenagers at heart.  Great expectations are heaped upon them by their parents. 

So to anyone who has ever considered taking someone into your home, definitely go for it.  You will enjoy a cultural exchange, meet some wonderful young folks and maybe even have some fun in the process.

And that is about all I have to say for the today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

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