Sometimes I take to the streets (or farmers markets) to talk to people about hosting exchange students. One of our amazing local coffeeshops, Mudhouse, sometimes lets me set up a little table outside to talk to people and answer questions.
While sitting outside Mudhouse, I heard a number of questions. I get questions everywhere, but I specifically remember a couple questions there that touched on the following topic. People have different reasons for wanting to host, and they also have different concerns about hosting. A concern that I’ve often encountered is, “I’m interested in hosting, but I need to wait until my kids are older.”
My response to this is that every parent must make decisions based on what they feel is right for their family. My experience has been that hosting is GREAT for young kids.
When I write, hosting is GREAT for young kids, there are actually several exchange students and their families that popped into my head. Before they popped into my head I was going to write a bullet-point list of what makes hosting such a good experience for families with young children, but since these stories are now just floating in my brain, I’ll tell you one. I’d like to tell you about my family and Alex.
Alex is from Slovakia. He was my parents’ first exchange student and I learned from Alex that an exchange student really does take on a role as part of the family. My family lives near my parents and they actually moved to a new home, just a few blocks from where I live, shortly after Alex arrived. He was completely involved with helping his new American family move boxes (and furniture) and seemed to really take pride in helping them set up their home and his new room. He was an outstanding kid, gregarious and instantly-likable. I honestly don’t remember there being a period of adjustment or “figuring out” relationships. When Alex was there, it was as though he was always there and always part of the family.
My daughter Max and son David took to Alex instantly. It was wonderful for David to have an “older brother.” We live just a few blocks from my parents’ house and while he lived with them he was a consistent joyful part of their lives. Somewhat ridiculously, Max nicknamed Alex “fluffy baby.” Initially, I thought this was cute in that she was referring to him as being her pet exchange-student. It was shortly revealed to me by Alex that the nickname actually came from him being her only family member that wore shorts and had furry legs (her dad’s a pants-only kinda guy). The nickname stuck and Max adoringly referred to him as her fluffy-baby all year long.
This big-brother relationship was great for my kids, but also seemed to be really positive for Alex. He’s a younger sibling to an adult brother in his natural family and had never been a big brother before. He’s also a kind and curious guy and taking on that role likely allowed him to get to know himself differently and create new awareness of his strengths (and what is being an exchange student about if not personal growth?). While his parents may never have younger children, I imagine that to my children he will always be “my brother from Slovakia.”