A mother of four kids under age 10, Melissa, a Local Coordinator from North Carolina, was initially nervous about hosting a high school exchange student with Academic Year in America (AYA). Before long though, her German exchange student, Sanna, became family. While saying goodbye to Sanna was hard, Melissa’s heart was happy knowing that she would always have an international daughter. She recently shared her reflections on being a host mother with AYA:
I have been a local coordinator with AYA for two years and have supervised 30 students during that time, so for my first experience hosting, I felt I had an advantage of what to expect. My biggest concern about hosting was that my household includes my husband and myself, our four young children (ages nine to seventeen months) and my mother. I was concerned that our circus would prove to be overwhelming to a student (and rightfully so).
When we chose Sanna, we were planning on being a “welcome family” (hosting for just 6-8 weeks), which we did primarily to give her an option should she become overwhelmed. As a welcome family we were going to host her for 6-8 weeks with the intention of finding her a 5-month home once she was situated. It took less than two days before she was asking if she could stay and we were ecstatic.
At 36 years old, I did not feel equipped to parent a teenager and the first time she asked if she could walk across the street to Target, I know I looked like a deer in headlights because what could teenagers do?!? I had no clue! But with open conversation and constantly checking in on each other – we figured it out. And if I’m honest – most days she didn’t need a parent. Most of the parents who choose to send their teenager across the ocean are confident in their child’s decision making, confidence and ability to act responsibly.
On the days that she did need a parent – such as prom dress shopping, a long hug after a bad day at school, a shoulder to cry on when she missed home, someone to talk to when a teammate was unkind – I was so honored to be asked to stand in that role. The days she had things under control I watched in amazement as she navigated new friendships, new household routines, four younger siblings, and a new school system.
My biggest concern was quickly put to rest as I saw Sanna (an only child) build incredible relationships with my children. She was the teenage sister who would play card games, do face masks and of course let them use her Snapchat filters. Days when I would find myself frustrated trying to get dinner on the table or not able to get everyone where they needed to be, she would step in and offer to hold the baby or help someone with homework. She didn’t step into that role because it was expected of her, but because she felt like a part of our family and family members work as a team.
The day Sanna left, we had spent the afternoon with our house filled with teenage girls for lunch, taking pics and giggling about amazing memories they had made. There were many tears as they all said goodbye and our family piled into the van to drive to the airport. Saying goodbye was sad and hard. She truly became another member of our family.
The morning after she arrived home I woke to a text with photos that her mom had hung around their apartment. In an apartment in Berlin, Germany, my kids adorn the walls with their big sister – and that makes my heart so happy. Hosting an exchange student is gaining a lifelong family member. I am so thankful for this experience!