Exchanging – Part 1

As I have talked about in blogs past our family has had the honor of hosting an exchange student for this school year. Jan (pronounced Yahn) is a terrific young man from the Czech Republic and we are truly blessed to have him, and his family, as new additions to our family. This year has provided our family with a rich and rewarding experience. I think Jan feels the same way.

This past week we recieved and email from our local area exchange coordinator for the exchange program Jan used. Becky wrote all of the families who are hosting exchange students in our area thanking us for opening our hearts and homes to our students. The letter served as reminder to me our time with Jan is quickly coming to an end. Becky included reminders about making travel plans and finishing up the year on a wonderful note. As I read her letter I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears. I can not believe this year has gone so quickly. Jan is here until July but if the previous part of the year is any indicator his departure will be here in the blink of an eye. When he leaves, Jan will cease to be an exchange student and will go back to his life in the Czech Republic. He will head home to his family and friends but he will always be part of our family.

Reading Becky’s email made me reflect a little on how we became involved with hosting an exchange student. Jan’s profile was given to me by Becky and she asked me to post it on the boys’ hockey website. She was looking for a home for Jan for the year. He was a kid who enjoyed hockey so Becky felt good about trying to put him with a family from our hockey community. I read and reread his profile. He seemed like a great kid who wanted to experience life in the United States. I thought about long and hard about what kind of an impact hosting an exchange student would have on our already busy lives. We have three busy, busy kids. How on earth would we fit in one more? At this point, the odds were against hosting an student but the idea was something I needed to explore with the rest of the family.

We never sat down ahead of time and talked about hosting an exchange student but when the opportunity presented itself it seemed to be a natural fit, although, I did have concerns. One of my biggest concerns was I didn’t think Claire would go for it ~ add another brother? She is already outnumbered and outsized. Claire was the first one I asked and her response was the most enthusiastic yes. She was excited at the thought of bringing in someone from another country and learning about another culture. She was not the least bit concerned about adding another brother. My next stop was Zach. He can be a bit fussy and particular. He likes being top dog. How would he react to having his top dog status being usurped? His initial answer was no so I let it go. I didn’t ask Stan or Lucas. I couldn’t have one person against the idea. We all had to in favor of hosting an exchange student or it wouldn’t work. I asked him to think about it but I didn’t hold out much hope. He came to me later that night and asked if I talked to Lucas or Dad. I told him I let it go because of his reservations. He changed his mind, he said. He thought it would be cool. Stan was on board from the minute it was brought up and I knew Lucas, with his easy going manner, would be excited as well. My only remaining concern was the thought of adding another kiddo to our house but we would make it work.

I called Becky and told her I wouldn’t be putting Jan’s profile on the website. We wanted to host him, I told her. We started the application process. It was lengthy and detailed. We had to write a letter introducing ourselves and explaining why we wanted to be a host family. I put much time and consideration into what I wrote in that letter because I wanted Jan’s family to know he would be treated like one of our own kids the moment he came into our lives. It must be an extremely disconcerting feeling to send your teenage child off to another country to live with another family and not have much control over where your child is placed. I wanted to reassure his family. I knew what I would want for my kids if our roles were reversed. I would want and need reassurance which is why I worked so hard on our application letter. Finally, our application was done, submitted and approved. The process moved quickly. It was official, Jan was coming to live with us in August and he would stay for the 2010-2011 school year.

I felt like an expectant parent. August 12 was the “due” date for Jan’s arrival. We made all the necessary preparations. His room stood empty and ready. We were all excited. Finally, his arrival day was here with one small glitch. His flight from JFK to Richmond was cancelled. I checked and rechecked the arrival time of his flight. Everything seemed to running smoothly until my last check and I saw the word “CANCELLED” next to his flight number. My heart skipped a beat not only for me but for Jan and his parents as well. I had no idea what to do. Jan’s cell phone from the Czech Republic died on one of his voyages in New York and I had no way of contacting him. Jan was 17 years old, alone in New York City with no way to contact us or his parents. His flight is cancelled. It was not a good situation. Jan’s parents had to be worried sick. I know I would have been. I called Becky to find out what to do and then my phone rang. It was the Czech Republic calling here. Jan’s dad was on the phone as concerned as I knew he would be but all was well. By this time we already knew Jan was being rerouted through Atlanta and would be arriving at midnight. We all loaded into the car at 11:30 and went to pick up Jan. He was here and he was part of our family from the minute he walked into the hugs waiting for him as he came off of the plane.

Hosting Jan has been one of the best decisions we made as a family. Our lives are much richer and more complete having gone through this experience together. I can’t imagine not having Jan in our lives. We had a great experience having him here. There have been ups and downs, as should be expected but the overall experience is one to treasure. I don’t know what our house will be like when Jan goes home but I can’t think about it right now. I have to focus on the present so our time doesn’t slip away. Oh, for the love of all of our children…

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