I leave for the Netherlands tomorrow and I’m sitting here in Chic-fil-A thinking about how all this got started years ago. I’m ever so thankful that I decided to open my home to an international teenager and I’m beyond grateful for the example my mother set by taking in teenagers, like me.
When I talk about hosting exchange students I get a couple typical responses, but they usually end with “I could never do that!” And that makes me really sad, but not just because I’m a Christian and feel that hospitality, grace, and unconditional love are cornerstones of my religion.
It makes me mad, not sad, when I have other Christians put their own comfort ahead of showing love to young person far away from home. This doesn’t mean everyone and all the time should host an exchange student. Life happens.
I get angry when someone asks me why they should have someone that isn’t family live with them – or some variation of that – and my response is always, “You aren’t having non-family stay with you. You are adding to your family.” Most of the time people know me well enough to shut up after I say that, but occasionally someone will say something along the lines of “not really” and then I go on a tirade and say that blood doesn’t make a family.
Feeling righteous indignation toward a tiny group of small minded people doesn’t move to tears though. As my mom always says, “We don’t care what stupid people think.”
What makes me sad is knowing what these families are missing out on. Year after year I hear people say, maybe when the kids are older, maybe when my kids are grown, maybe when I have more money, maybe when I have kids…
Apparently, I’m a freaking goddess for hosting exchange students while I am penny pinching and dealing with a special needs kid, a bipolar husband, a chronic illness, and a demanding career.
But I’m really just a regular person, just a mom.
You want to know how I do it?
It’s easy, really. Having the exchange student here makes everything better! I’m not kidding. And it’s not just that I had Joop and he's so funny. I also had two other teenagers live with me and they made everything better too. Charles’s depressive swings were more moderated; Drake learned about sharing his parents and got a glimpse into the life of siblings. I could name dozens more. I had an extra hand around to help and the ability to learn first hand about the world was intellectually stimulating on a level I will never replicate.
Not to mention that hosting is just fun. When you are going to McDonald’s with your American family, it’s just dinner, but when you add in an exchange student, it’s an adventure!
If you’ve read Joop Does America already, you may be calling my bluff. But! But! But! Yes, there was crap. Tons of it. Some pretty intense crap with all of the teens that have stayed with me. And not just the general run of the mill teenage crap, but addiction, hospitalization, and serious mental illness.
(Just to be clear, my experience is a little more intense than anyone else I’ve known, which is why I wrote a book. There’s a running joke going around that God sends me the neediest. Something about my family…and maybe a little payback for what my mom dealt with?)
But even with Leonie being hospitalized for a severe case of mono, I would still do it again. I would try to brush out the hospital bed hair and figure out what dizzy, nauseated Dutch girls will eat. I’ll deal with despondent, my girlfriend just broke up with me Joop curled up in a fetal position on my bathroom floor. I’ll handle paranoia and wild accusations.
After 3 years of working with exchange students, I can tell you, most of the time, the drama is pretty low key, run of the mill teenageness. I remember one host mother’s big complaint: They don’t use the top sheet! OMG! Such a problem… Guess what, neither do I. If you run into more pressing issues than top sheet usage, there is a community representative not far away. And then a district manager. And then the company itself. And even the state department.
Maybe this year with my Brazilian Princess I’ll just have top sheet usage issues….
So, if you want to host a student, feel free to send me an email. And if you just want to read about my experience with Joop, you can buy the book here.
I live in Athens, Georgia, with my son, my husband, and an ever-revolving list of exchange students, who are a never-ending source of entertainment and writing material.