The following was contributed by John R., an Academic Year in America (AYA) host father who has been hosting international exchange students for eight years and counting.
In life sometimes there are those special people that will help us learn and make us better. I can honestly say I have been given ten of those people; they are my daughters. Two of them, Shannon and Miranda, from my wife and eight of them are Academic Year in America exchange students—Helen, Gawon, Rachel, Jesse, Zoey, Hyewon, Belle, and Yingyu—that we hosted over a period of eight years. Even though I would admit as a dad and a male, it can get pretty crazy and sometimes confusing with daughters, I would not change a thing for the life lessons that I have learned from them over the years.
One of the lessons I have learned from my daughters is the ability not to give up no matter how much pressure they have. Yingyu, for example, is our exchange daughter living with us now. She has come from China with little spoken English to a new country, new city, school, family, and culture. And what use to be easy and familiar to her is gone. And her whole world has changed which has brought her new challenges, like understanding American History, eating strange food, making new friends and speaking English. But what I have found is, even though things can be hard, Yingyu keeps getting up each morning with a big smile on her face and is ready to face the challenges of the day. She would say, “good morning, what a happy day.” What this has taught me as a father is that females have a great strength to push forward, and no matter how hard things get, they will not give up.
The second lesson my ten daughters taught me is their strong compassion for the welfare of others. This can be as simple as helping a friend in need, helping the family, or donating their time and resources for other people. There was this Korean family in Kentucky who opened a new business in Lexington. It was a Korean restaurant near the University of Kentucky campus, and they needed some help. Yingyu was excited and more than willing to help as much as she could, even if it meant getting her hands dirty. What spoke to me the most about this was that for Yingyu, helping others was a natural thing to do, and we should be doing it.
The last of many lessons that my ten daughters taught me is that nobody is perfect. In a father/daughter relationship, we sometimes make mistakes, and that is okay. With mistakes, there is room for growth, forgiveness and learning from each other. As a father I would say I have made many mistakes, but what I have found is there has been learning and forgiveness when we realize that we don’t have to be perfect.
If I were to give advice to fathers, I would tell them this: I think the most important things that we can do for our daughters is to spend quality time with them, listen to them in what they have to say, and to love them. When we do these things, we will discover that they have a wealth of wisdom, they are stronger than we think, and we can be ourselves with them.
Are you an AYA host parent who would like to contribute a story about your exchange year experience? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!