“I just don’t get it,” she says to me, exasperated. “I mean, I am thankful and all, please don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate all that you are doing for me. But… It’s so much. Why do you do this? Why would anyone do this?”
The questioner is our current exchange student, another lovely girl from Spain.
She is bright, articulate, honest and open. She holds little back and shares her thoughts and questions without hesitation.
But the topic that flummoxes her, even after having touched upon it frequently, is still why we have accepted her into our home? And it’s “for an entire school year, a full 10 months,” as she continually points out.
Her sister has also gone through this same program, living with a family in the state of Idaho. Her family has already experienced the gracious acceptance and hospitality of an American taking in their Spanish daughter. They know that this is how the program works.
Still, she is stuck. Her thoughts swirl constantly.
When we go to pick her up after her soccer practices, she realizes, yet again, that she is completely dependent upon one of us to get her back home. She thanks us, again, and mutters, “It’s so much trouble for you to have me.” When we ask her which foods she wants from the store, she answers with hesitation, clearly feeling badly that we are spending on her. “I just don’t get why you do this,” she says again.
I answer her every time this topic comes up. I tell her that we knew that we would have to pick her up, and that we work it into the schedule with the other family members. I explain that she really doesn’t eat that much, and that the bedroom is there whether she is sleeping in it, or not. She sighs.
One day, we are putting the rabbits back in at night. This is a chore that takes at least 15 minutes. But it involves cuddling the bunnies as I pick them up and gently put them into their safe cages for the night. She watches me moving the water bowls, checking on their feed–and quietly talking with each of them as I carry them.
She sees this all and declares, “Why do you have rabbits? I can kind of understand the chickens: they give you egg. The dogs? I don’t know. But the rabbits? They are so much work.”
I see my chance to maybe finally make the point. “Yes, they are work,” I answer honestly.
“So are my kids.” I stop for a moment, and grin at her. “And exchange students are a lot of work, too.”
She nods her head, ready to start on another oral musing about why “anyone would ever do this”.
I continue before she can jump in.
“But they all bring something to my life. Something different. The bunnies and the chickens teach my kids responsibility–and we all like to hold them and pet them, and the chickens give us eggs.
“Each exchange student we’ve hosted–even if for only a few days–every students brings something different to our family. You do, too. By you being here, we make friends with someone we would not have known otherwise. We become more connected. We all grow.
“You change us,” I conclude. “And that’s good for all of us, not just you.”
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to four (or maybe eight) at the moment: one at college, one a senior at the high school and one an 8th grader at the middle school. For this year, there is one more who is living at their home, a sophomore at BUHS. She also coordinates the Program for Academic Exchange, PAX, and coordinates the local exchange students in our area. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.