Monday, April 18, 2011

O.....is for Open Door

which is an organization that makes arrangements for foreign exchange students to be placed with host families. In the late fall of 1990 I decided to become a "host mom". It was an extremely emotional.....but extremely rewarding experience.

After I registered with the organization and went through all the background checks I was mailed a list of all the students waiting for a host family. Because my father was an immigrant, I felt sort of a kinship to the countries closely related to his. There were several students from Croatia and when I saw my 'far-away daughter's" face, I picked her.

She was 17 years old and in her last year of school. She gave up graduation with her friends to come and graduate here. I know her parents had to be so nervous....sending her so far away. But they shouldn't have worried.....me being the "mother hen" that I am. Of course they didn't know that.....then. They knew that her flight was coming in to "Detroit" and when they read that.....they were worried even more. Seems as though Detroit even has a bad rep over there. Her mother didn't speak English so I couldn't talk to her.....I spoke with my 'far-away daughter" on the phone prior to her flight and assured her that I did not live in or near Detroit....it was just the closest International Airport. It would take about an hour for us to get "home".

A friend of mine who had been hosting students for several years and had one that year from Sweden, took me to the airport to pick her up. He also took his student with him. That turned out really well because she could speak Italian and so could my girl. I know it had to make her feel so much better to speak a familiar language with someone her own age.....in this strange country. They chatted like magpies all the way home.....in Italian. I loved hearing it!!

I got her home and we began to break the ice. It was January and deep snow was everywhere. She spoke 5 languages fluently. And I later found out that, in her own school, she had already had all the subjects and material covered in her classes here. This is proof on how behind our educational system is. She was a straight A student and kept that up while she was here. The work was a breeze for her since she'd already had it.....so she was educated in our culture instead of academics and she loved it. She especially loved peanut butter as they didn't have anything like that in Croatia. She bought cookbooks to take back home with her, and mailed packages of peanut butter and other goodies back there. I took her to the huge flea market in Nappanee, so she could observe the customs of the Amish. I took her to see "Cats". She made friends with another senior who invited her to go along with her and her family to see her grandparents in Florida for a week during Spring break. They drove so she got to see quite a bit of the United States.

We became very close. My children felt close to her, especially my daughter. My daughter is about 6 years older and had just had her first child so she even got to hold a newborn. That newborn is 20 now. I never hosted another student after that because when she left it was so emotional. My daughter and I cried all the way home from the airport and cried often in the weeks that followed....we had gotten so attached and missed her so much. We knew that we would never get to see her again.

We keep in touch through e-mail and it makes me happy to know that she's well and happy. She has an impressive career, handsome husband and 2 beautiful children. As soon as her daughter learns English, we are going to set it up so she and my granddaughter, who is the same age, can email back and forth.

So, even though it was a rewarding experience.....it was a sad one when I had to say goodbye to her. She was crying too. What a mess we all were!! She is my "far-away" daughter and nothing will ever change that. God-speed....and God Bless, dear one. You know you're loved over here, across the ocean......by this little family whose hearts you captured and keep with you.

4 comments:

Jamie said...

What a sweet post, Val. I didn't know about this part of your life, and I am very impressed. I thought about being a host family once but I assumed that our family was not the right "type", whatever that was. A wonderful post for first thing on a crappy Monday morning, so thank you. Big crappy Monday hugs...xo. :)

JY said...

Ditto what Jamie said... really impressed. Something that a lot of ppl think of doing but never actually do!

Jennee said...

I would love to do this someday. I think it's an amazing opportunity to impact so many peoples lives and I see it touched yours as well!

forsythia said...

You are a woman of many facets--what a wonderful post.