My life is normally consumed with my work as a freelance writer and our several pets. For the first time since my husband and I have been married, this past semester was also consumed with one other thing—a foreign exchange student from Slovakia. When I was a high school student, I wanted my family to host a foreign exchange student in the worst way. I was always intrigued by the idea of living with someone else from another country and getting to know about their ways of life. I wanted to know what people from other countries ate, what their language sounded like and how their day-to-day routines differed from mine. Though my dream of having a foreign exchange student as a student myself never came true, we were given the fortunate opportunity to host Alexandra this past semester as a member of our family, and our lives drastically changed as a result.
I’m not going to lie: Hosting a foreign exchange student is a challenge. Someone else has raised a child to the teenage stage, and then he or she enters your household and you both have your own set of pre-established rules, routines and ways of life. Together you have to find common ground and a way to live that respects everyone’s space and personal needs.
Alex is a 17-year-old girl from Slovakia, and though we had a few rough patches in the beginning, having her as a member of our family was a very rewarding experience. For five months, Alex lived side-by-side with us. We went to her track meets; she came to an American wedding with us. We visited Southern California over Spring Break and together we went to Alex’s first baseball game. It’s amazing how much a person can really become a member of the family in five short months, and we were sad to send her off in early June. We still had so much we wanted to do—share the 4th of July with her, visit the Neon Boneyard, have more barbecue dinners—but all good things much come to an end.
Even though Alex isn’t living with us anymore, she knows she always has a bed at our house and a family to visit when she returns to the United States again. Since putting Alex on a plane nearly a month ago, we’ve been out of the country and she’s been catching up with her friends, but we’ve stayed in touch over Facebook and played a game of chat tag on Skype. She wrote lots of letters to her friends and family while living in the United States, and I knew I would write her snail mail once she moved back home.
My letter to Alex is actually a lot different than the letters I write to other people. In her letter, I wrote about daily things around the neighborhood and house that only she would appreciate and understand. I told her about what’s been going on in the local park lately and that I saw some people from her high school out for a morning jog. I gave her an update on our pets and what went down in the city for Independence Day. It was like writing to a friend and a family member, someone close to me who knows what goes on in the day-to-day grind of our household. I enjoyed writing Alex a letter, though I wish even more that she still shared the breakfast table with us in the morning.