The following article was contributed by Terri, a Local Coordinator from New York reflecting on how overcoming jitters to host an exchange student opens up the opportunity of a lifetime.
I suppose you could think of a lot of reasons why you might not host an exchange student. But, if you use those reasons not to host, then you could be passing on the opportunity of a lifetime. Hosting for the first time can be a little scary, but so many families that take the leap end up hosting students for several years. So, for those families, that initial fear is turned into welcome excitement. The nervousness feels more like curiosity. They can’t help feeling that fate is somehow intervening, and they’re pumped to see how it will reveal itself.
Our second exchange student, Khaled, was from Egypt. We chose him because my daughter had been in sixth grade the year before and had loved learning about the Egyptian culture. He was our first Muslim student, and we were understandably nervous about the unknown cultural challenges facing us.
He arrived during Ramadan, his holy month of fasting. This meant that Khaled could not eat or drink from sun up to sun down. As a mom, I really worried for him. He had joined the soccer team and practice was tough. He and I would get up at 4 am and have breakfast together. Looking back, I keep thinking “4 am?” — but in those quiet moments, Khaled and I really formed a bond.
I couldn’t help respecting this 15-year-old boy, who would sacrifice food and water all day for his faith. He told me about the reasons he makes those sacrifices, and I could relate it to my Catholic upbringing and observing Lent. In the evenings after soccer practice, we would meet him with his dinner at the soccer field. There was a sweet sigh of relief that, at the end of the day, he was still a very healthy teenage boy.
Khaled was one of our most social exchange students. His personality mirrored my Italian relatives, so I chalked it up to that gregarious, Mediterranean nature. He greeted you with a smile on his face and had lots of stories to tell. He was quick to laugh at himself and eager for that human connection. Everywhere we went, Khaled was listening for a familiar Arabic accent, then meeting Egyptians and striking up a conversation. Walking in New York City with Khaled was certainly a good time, even though it did take a little bit longer to get where we wanted to go.
My husband Ed and I still laugh at the times Khaled would “need” to talk to us about his challenges and successes at school or throughout his day. Khaled’s timing wasn’t always the best. Sometimes, Ed would say, “It’s getting late, and I really need to sleep.” Khaled would keep talking and tell Ed to sleep because, “Mom could handle it.”
What a fun year we had with Khaled. We laughed so much. He touched so many people. I guess, in the beginning, we were concerned with the differences that our faiths and cultures might present. But, over and over, fate intended us to witness the similarities. And in the end, he is our son, my children’s brother, our parents’ grandson. We’re all grateful we didn’t let our perceived reasons for not hosting get in the way of finding our way to an incredible relationship.
Interested in hosting like Terri did? Visit our website to learn more about welcoming an exchange student like Khaled into your home.