The following is an amazing submission from host mom Karen S. about her family’s experiences hosting exchange students with AYA.
Due to fertility issues we have been unable to have children on our own. We decided to adopt a child domestically. While we were waiting to be chosen by a birth mother, my husband and I thought about hosting an exchange student as a good way to help fill our hearts and our time.
Our first student, Ria, came to our home in August 2011. We thoroughly enjoyed the new experience of showing her the “real” America, seeing her involved in activities at her high school, and sharing our holiday traditions with her. Then, in December 2011, we received unexpected news that a birth mother, Angel, had selected us to adopt her child… a baby girl who was due to arrive in 2 weeks!
Ria helped us immensely during that time. She helped us prepare for the baby, put together baby furniture, and she came with us to the hospital the morning of the cesarean section. Ria got to meet our daughter, Ava, on the same day we did — the day she was born, 12/21/11. We brought Ava home on December 23rd, and the four of us shared Christmas together as a family.
In the late winter, another newcomer to our family started coming around. Sam, a boy from high school, and Ria began dating. Although Ria liked to claim they were only friends, my husband Josh and I could see it was more than that. They continued to date through the end of the school year and went to prom together.
The next year after Ria returned to Germany, Sam traveled to her home town to visit her and her family during Christmas. She in turn came back to Illinois to visit him, his family, and us a few months after. Then, Sam decided to move to Germany to be with Ria. For the past year both have lived in Germany — sometimes together and sometimes apart due to school. Currently, they are both in Illinois visiting Sam’s family and their other friends and family.
Because of our wonderful experience with Ria, we decided to host Shirin the next school year. Shirin was a completely different experience than Ria. Even though they were both from Germany, they each have very different interests and styles. While Ria was in band, Shirin was a cheerleader. Both participated in the spring musical and made wonderful long lasting friendships in the process. It was very interesting to witness the differences between the two girls and their reactions to American experiences.
Shirin has made three return trips in Illinois to visit us and her family since she returned home in July 2012. We have taken vacations with the girls as well. Ria and I traveled to Chicago and Kansas City during her exchange year. I have also taken Shirin to Chicago and Kansas City, but she also joined the whole family on trips to Cedar Point, Ohio, and Florida during her post exchange year visits.
Josh and I just returned from Germany — our first trip to Europe. During the trip we stayed with Ria, Sam, and Ria’s family as well as Shirin’s family. Their families were gracious enough to show us around Germany. With Ria’s family, we got to visit Berlin and Leipzig; and with Shirin’s family, we got to see southern Germany from Salzburg, Austria to Strasbourg, France. Both families were incredibly hospitable and went through great efforts to ensure we had a pleasant stay. They made us traditional German meals, showed us around their home towns, and helped us to see real German everyday life.
Through this experience, we not only gained two international daughters whom Ava considers to be sisters, but we have also expanded our family to include their families. I know we will continue to maintain contact and relationships with Ria, Sam, and Shirin, but I also hope to maintain contact with their families. We truly feel we have family in Germany now.
Of course during the exchange year, we dealt with typical teenage issues and drama, but by far the positives make the program worthwhile. I would recommend hosting exchange students to any family who is interested in learning about other countries. My husband and I plan to continue hosting students many more times in the years to come.