My Journey as an Exchange Parent – Not Quite the Beginning

I spoke to my new, albeit temporary, daughter for the first time today. She will arrive in only a couple of weeks and this was the first time we have heard each other’s voices. I wondered if she was her mother at first- she sounded, mature, confident, a bit nervous about clothing expectations, and otherwise excited.

She wondered how long dresses should be and I explained the concept of finger-tip length.

She wondered whether earrings- perhaps other piercings (?)- were allowed in our home. A picture of my real daughter with all manner of holes in her head flashed through my mind- audibly I relayed what was allowed at school.

She wondered about a SIM card for her phone and the wisdom of bringing her computer. I assured her both would be useful.

I asked her if she was excited about being here earlier than expected (the school district elected to try out a year-round approach and is starting in July). She said the sooner the better.

I asked if her real parents were nervous for her. She said her mom just cries and cries but her father encourages her to try new things and to be independent.

I asked if there were any foods I should keep for her. She said oh that wasn’t an issue. Again my vegan daughter came to mind and I wondered if this new child really understands how far I will go to be sure people enjoy meals around here.

My husband asked if she thought her country’s football team would win their upcoming game. She laughed and said of course they would and that she was excited for them.

It was an unusual conversation. It’s an unusual prospect- bringing an unknown person into your home to be your child for an entire school year. I told her I thought she was very brave.

I didn’t tell her the stories I’ve heard of exchange students being used as cheap baby-sitters for younger children, or crammed in bunches into too small homes that were less than well kept. That will not be her experience.

Our empty nest has been scrubbed and polished and new furniture may or may not arrive before she does. I hope she finds a home with us and not only a landing platform by which to launch herself into American teen culture. I hope she finds something useful in us. I know that right now, she may just see us as people offering a place to stay- awkward AirBNB owners who stay in the house with you. But I hope she will see us as more than that and will understand what we hope to offer. I pray for her safety, her journey, her learning, and for her heart. I pray for her mom and dad and her little brothers who will surely miss her. I pray that our home will provide peace, comfort, and room to grow, and that we can be a second family for her.