"I look at this as a chance to recreate myself, I mean I am going to a place where no one knows me, where no one has any expectations of who I am or who I should be."
I heard Bonnie say this to me not long before she started her exchange to France. Check out her blog bonchanceinfrance she posts amazing pictures and you really get a sense of Bonnie and her experience by reading it.
I find myself in wonderment that a 17 year old has made this realization. That she has taken this leap, this huge jump into the unknown with both feet and excitement. No fear, just wanted to experience and learn all that she can. I am learning that the young adults chosen for the exchange program are phenomenal people, I think they have a gift.
I have had the pleasure of knowing several exchange students, there is of course Bonnie from Canada to France, Alex (who stayed with us a few years ago) he was from Australia. There is Mary of course from Brazil, and I am getting know Roxanne (Belgium) and some other students as I spend more time with Mary. Oh yes, I remember Jakko from last year, he was from Denmark.
I have noticed that they seem to be a special breed of people, I see a common bond in all of them. They willingly step outside of any comfort zone they have and step into another world, where they are going to live with strangers, who speak a strange language, who eat different foods than they are accustom too, who may have different belief systems, different religions, different family dynamics, different customs, even different money.
They all want to embrace every experience they can and they all do it with a huge beaming smile. They glow with the joy of it all, they can't wait to try a new thing. They are confident, poised, and always ready to try anything. Mary, who has never seen snow, is ready to try skiing, ice skating, I think if we told her it is our custom to ring in the new year with a polar bear swim that she would be all for it. (Hmm, this might be a good idea)
I was concerned because we often drop Mary off at school just as the last bell rings. This means she is late to her first class, we have to drop our kids off at school before we drop Mary off and this is why she is always a bit late. I asked her the other day if this was becoming a problem with her teacher. She said, "No, and if they call me into the office, I will point out them that I have good marks, and that I am good student who does my work and does not disrupt or bother anyone, and that I often use my 15 minute break between classes to do extra class work so I don't have to bring home work. If being late is the only thing the have to worry about me then that is just to bad." She would never even think to mention the kids, or that it is really her host families fault. Her statement says that she would just step up and take responsibility.
I see the same gifts in Bonnie and Roxanne, indeed in all the exchange students I have met. I often wonder how to give my children these gifts? I think you just try to be the best parent you can and then keep your fingers crossed, but I am really not sure. I think exposing them to these wonderful role models will have an effect on them. The exchange students are always so grateful to their host families for a good home and a sense of family, for giving the students a ground while they explore and experience the country they came so far to learn about.
I wonder if the exchange students realize how much they teach us and how much they give back. If they realize that they are role models for the young families they live with. I wonder if they know they are teaching the adults a thing or two as well. I hope that they realize that they are giving us a gift by coming to live with us. They are making memories that their host families will have forever. Do they know that their enthusiasm is contagious, that their self-confidence is catching, and that they are not only recreating themselves, but all of those around them as well?