CoSozo Living

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Sun, September 30, 2012
Broadening Your Horizons
I had always admired the idea of hosting a foreign exchange student. Introducing our two children (Lauren, 9 and Samuel, 6) to a confident, successful young adult that more than likely speaks not just two languages, maybe even three, from all the way on the other side of the world seemed ideal. What a great way to inspire a sense of adventure and give them that little extra push to review their (very expensive) Little Genius language cards and grow up to be young successful adults that also would one day be ready to travel the world themselves.

Yes, truth be told, I signed up for an exchange student for purely selfish reasons. What I did not expect from the experience was how opening our home would expand not only my children’s world view, but allow me to re-examine my perceptions on everything from international diplomacy to why Nutella is perhaps the most delicious substance ever.

Our wonderful German student, Maximilian, arrived on a sweltering August afternoon last year. Between a near heat stroke and lingering jet lag his blazing cheeks sent rapid distress signals that he just might not make it the first few days. Ice packs, gallons of water, and many assurances that summer really does come to an end in our part of the world calmed him and at least convinced him to unpack his suitcases.

We registered him for classes and he was soon off to meeting new friends and integrating nicely into a routine of school, soccer practices, and homework. Family dinners were not always regular as we were many times going in different directions but we all made an effort to gather at least 4 times a week. Conversation around the dinner table was never dull and most of the time full of laughter.

Of course Sam wanted to know the important facts of German life “Are there a lot of motorcycles there?” “Does your PlayStation speak to you in German or English?” “Does your mom set limits on how long you can play it too?“ “What do dogs say in German?” (It’s wau wau in case you were wondering.) Maximilian was always so patient with his answers he became the greatest Big Brother for our Sam.

In October, before the weather turned too cool we packed up our camping gear and headed for our favorite place at the lake. Maximilian, not the biggest fan of the outdoors was a trooper for our annual family adventure. We hiked, fished, sailed, paddle boarded and introduced Maximilian to the fine delicacy known as camping chili. In return he brought out his secret stash of Nutella during our tradition of campfire s’more roasting. It is safe to say we will never be without this most prized, wonderful, velvety, nutty chocolaty gooey stuff in our camping gear. It is essential to survival in the wilderness as far as I am concerned.

As the campfire burned on we had one of our first opportunities to really talk about life in the U.S. as compared to life in Germany. I was taken back by this young man’s ability to grasp the seriousness of how important it is to develop and nurture international diplomacy beyond the realm of government policy. As a young person he himself felt a sense of responsibility for this. I’d never anticipated a teenager let alone most adults would have a desire to take this on. It really got me to thinking.

These simple actions such as volunteering to host an exchange student on the surface may not seem to impact world affairs, however, when you consider the number of people impacted by one family in the U.S. connecting and temporarily offering support to a child of another family in a different country, the extended families of each family is now aware of the exchange, the community and the schools in both countries benefit.

The host family receives the exposure of a new culture, learns about new traditions and is able to share all of that with family and friends. The visiting student upon return to his home country speaks highly of the visit and promotes the community and school in which he was a part. These connections continue to link and grow as time continues.

If everyone that had the means and desire to host a student did so, think of the wonderful relationships that could be built and developed in a relatively short time. I am sure this could quickly out-pace even the best diplomacy policies in action!

Our year with Maximilian went so very quickly. We had such a great time sharing our family holiday traditions with him and integrating his special traditions with ours. I had anticipated including him in with our family and having him be a part of all of our activities and day-to-day routines. I did not realize just how much he would become an integral part of our lives. Maximilian brought more joy to our lives than we ever could have imagined. When the time came in May to say goodbye it was tough on all of us.

Through Skype and email we keep in touch and are talking about arranging a trip to visit Maximilian and his family possibly next summer. We cannot wait to meet his family and friends in person and get to know first hand his country and his community of which he speaks so fondly. Because we were given the incredible opportunity to know Maximilian, we have valuable new bonds not only with him but also his family, his community, his country.

In reflection, I am not sure if my own children caught that “multi-lingual” bug but I can always hope that they will at least review those flash cards I paid way too much for every once in awhile. I am so very happy that we all had an opportunity to share the experience of getting to know Maximilian and opening our eyes to different parts of the world that perhaps we knew were there but had not spent enough time thinking about.

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