When Jakub, a Polish high school student who decided to participate in an exchange year abroad with Academic Year in America (AYA) though the FLEX Program, first learned that he would be living with the Wiech family in a small village in western New York, he was a little nervous about what that experience would entail. It would be a significant change from the life he was used to in Warsaw, the sprawling capital city of Poland. Luckily, Jakub bonded quickly with his hosts, the Wiech family—even before his actual arrival in the U.S. His experience living with this tightly-knit clan (including his host parents, four siblings, three grandparents, and two dogs) far surpassed his expectations, and he returned to Poland at the end of his exchange year with countless beautiful memories and a deep relationship with the Wiech family that could last a lifetime. Read on for his thoughtful tribute to each member of his host family and the indelible imprint that each one left on his heart.
Jakub from Poland shares his memories of each member of the Wiech family during his exchange year in New York:
“When I learned that I would have a chance to go to the United States for one year, I was both excited and scared at the same time. Normally I live in a huge city—the capital of Poland, with two million other people. When I read that I would spend a year in Scio, New York, a small village town with a community of no more than 2000 inhabitants, I knew this year would be…well…very different.
I was curious, so I decided to look on the internet to learn more. I saw cornfields, cows and horses. I imagined myself milking cows in the mornings and driving tractors on the weekends. Right after I learned where I would be heading, I got in touch with my host family. That was in April last year. By the time I even started packing for the US in August, I was in touch with my host parents, host siblings and grandparents. We communicated on WhatsApp, Messenger and FB. We chatted on FaceTime. When they learned that I play piano, they moved heaven and earth to organize a keyboard for me for the school year. That was in May, two months before I even started packing my suitcase.
By the time I landed in the US, I knew that I had found a new part of my family on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and that they were waiting for me with open hearts and fully accepting the fact that I am from a different galaxy. The host parents and my four siblings welcomed me at the airport with a huge poster saying “Welcome to America” in Polish. In front of the house there was an American and a Polish flag. They did a lot of big and small things to make me feel at home with them.
I came to a family with a mother, a father and four siblings, two of whom live outside the home, but we see each other quite often. No cows, horses or tractors, just two adorable dogs: Ben and Hunter. Paradise on earth.
Let me describe the best host family ever – a dream host family! I will start with Brandi, my host mother – the lady of the house. My host mom is hard-working, caring and loving, like every mother. However, what distinguishes her is the fact that she is always there. Whether it’s day or night. Regardless of whether it is snowing or hailing, or if there is a 90-degree heat. She is just always there, and you can always count on her. My mom is like a best friend. She is unique, always honest and objective. Mom knows each of us from the inside. Although I spent only a year here, she knows me completely. Sometimes I feel like she knows everything and reads from my eyes. What I value most about her is that she is always where I need her to be, that she is always a great support and a driving force for me, especially as my biggest fan during my track meets.
Adam is my host father. As a father, he is firm but also tenderhearted. Without him, life would be boring. Over the last months we have had the opportunity to discuss many topics, from deer hunting to politics. Thanks to him, I am able to look at many issues from many perspectives that I had not even thought about before. He led me through the forest several times and explained how everything works around us. Not only does he play the father’s role, but it can also be said that he is like a life guide, and I am grateful to him for that.
Trenton is my brother. He is a loud, joyful boy who often infects me with laughter and sometimes foolishness. We spend time together playing chess and cards, running and training, or just simply doing home duties. He showed me how to water ski, which I never had a chance to try before in my life. I know that I will miss him very much. Lauren, my older sister, is the loudest person I have ever met, right after my brother. She is as funny as he is. I will miss her very much too. I know that I can always count on her support, regardless of the circumstances. She took me to different places, even when she had her things to do and did not have time. It is she who comes to cheer me during competitions and track meets. I know I can talk with her about everything and she will help me to find solutions. I ask her if I don’t understand something, or if I don’t know what to do. I am beyond thankful that even if she is far away, I feel that she is next door. Camryn, my little sister, is a little joker. She loves to laugh. Like a sister, she is also malicious sometimes, but this also has its charm. I sledded with her and we played in the battle of snowballs. With her, in the summer, we gathered crabs on the beach in the evenings, which I will never forget. Sierra, my older sister, is a mother of two dogs, whom I love too. She is very direct and honest, which I appreciate in her very much. When I had a bad day, without thinking, she took me to a restaurant and tried to lift my mood.
Grandma Betty, Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Harland have also hosted me in their lives, sharing their passions and everyday activities with me. Grandma Betty involved me in volunteering in her church and offered the possibility to play a concert there. I baked gingerbread with Grandma Nancy and drove a fancy old car with grandpa Harland.
I can’t forget about two dogs that are an inseparable element of our everyday life. Ben, a black Labrador who loves to play and sleep with me, and Hunter, white and black Springer Spaniel, loving to be petted. They both like to watch TV with us and be around us all the time. Dogs make me smile when I come home from school when I’m tired. If I see them, automatically I get a boost of energy.
My host family has become my family. I call them Mom or Dad on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. We spent only 10 months together, but I have the impression that it’s been years. I am extremely grateful to them that they decided to take me under their roof, fully accepted me as I am and treated me like their own child. They have been absolutely exceptional from the first day we contacted each other in April last year, thorough all the days and months of this year. I believe we formed a lasting relationship which will continue even after I go back home. I can hardly wait to welcome them in Poland and show them my beautiful country.
I know I was born under a lucky star to be placed with the Wiech family! Dear Brandi, Adam, Lauren, Sierra, Camryn, Trenton, Grandmas Betty and Nancy, Grandpa Harland, Ben and Hunter – thank you, you will always stay in my heart!”
Thank you to the Wiech family for embracing Jakub with open arms and giving him a real understanding of American culture and family life. They clearly made a lasting impression on Jakub! The deep bonds that developed between Jakub and his host family represent the ideals of AYA’s mission to bring the world together through cultural exchange.
Is your family interesting in welcoming an international exchange student like Jakub into your home?