What We Learned from Our Exchange Student

By Ashleigh Pike

“Will I get to see blue sky while I am here?” I will never forget this question asked by Lisa, our 7th exchange student from Beijing.

In early August 2014 I got an email from my children’s school and my employer, Forsyth Country Day School, that forty 7th grade students from Beijing would be spending close to three weeks with our school in October. Host families were needed. I called my husband at work and he was as excited as I was at the prospect. Our ten year old son thought it was a “cool idea”. Our twelve year old daughter was at camp, so she got a letter letting her know she would have a “sister” for three weeks in the fall. I had always thought about hosting an exchange student, but a full school year seemed like a long time. What a perfect opportunity this three week visit would be!

We received an email from Lisa (her American name) about six weeks before her arrival. She told us that she likes animals (thank goodness because we have three dogs!), is artistic, and is excited to have siblings in America. All of us were eager and nervous the evening we picked her up. What would she be like? Would we be able to understand her? Would she like us or think we are a totally crazy American family? Lisa, her classmates, and the teachers that traveled with them arrived at school around 11pm on a Tuesday night. The Beijing students were so excited to finally be at their destination! We liked Lisa immediately. She was sweet, quiet, and wore a big smile. She told us on the ride home that she had never been this far from her parents before. We got back to the house and I helped her to get settled, trying to “mama” her as best I could knowing she must miss hers. She got unpacked, played with our three dogs, and went to bed. She had a big day tomorrow going to school with us.

The next morning was dark and dreary. While driving to school with the wind shield wipers furiously working, Lisa asked me, “Will I get to see blue sky here?” I nonchalantly answered that the rain was supposed to clear out and that we should have beautiful Carolina blue sky after lunch. She said, “I am excited to see it. I rarely get to see blue sky at home.” Her statement hit me like a ton of bricks. She rarely sees clear skies in Beijing due to the air pollution. She sometimes has to wear a mask outside so she does not inhale the harmful air. I said a quiet prayer right then thanking God for the opportunity to see blue sky and breathe clean air. After school that day, I asked someone to take a picture of us with Lisa’s phone with the beautiful blue sky behind us so she could send it to her mom. The joyful look on her face was priceless.

Our three weeks with Lisa were exciting, educational, enjoyable, and sometimes exhausting. Going from two children to three was more than my husband and I expected! Lisa was a trooper while she was with us. She traveled to two lacrosse tournaments and dealt with the craziness that is our lives. We introduced her to Mexican, Italian and Greek food all of which she ate with gusto. She learned how to handle “down time” at our house. She is so busy with school in Beijing that she hardly has to time to just relax. The first two weeks she was with us, she literally did not know what to do if I told her “You have an hour to hang out until dinner while the kids are finishing their homework.” She would just stare at me and quietly ask, “What can I do?” I would give her a few choices and she would make a decision. Her last week with us she finally made decisions on her own with what to do with her free time. I was thrilled and felt this was a huge accomplishment for her.

Lisa’s last night with us was Halloween. I took her to buy a costume and was shocked, with her sweet demeanor, that she picked out a frightening werewolf costume! She was SO excited about Halloween. “You mean, Mrs. Pike, I just say ‘trick-or-treat’ and I get candy?” WOW! She had a fabulous night going around our neighborhood with my daughter and her friends. When she returned, she went through her stash and decided what to take back with her. I assured her she could take all of it to Beijing but she said it was too much. That is a statement you would never hear my two children say!

Our experience with Lisa was phenomenal. I only wish I had been more prepared to answer all of her questions about everything, literally. “Why is there a stop sign at that corner but not at that one?” “Why are those leaves turning red and those leaves turning yellow?” She was so curious which I loved, but her curiosity was at times tiring especially early in the morning when I was not caffeinated! I highly encourage everyone to consider this enriching opportunity of opening your home to a child from another country. You will realize, as we did, that your student learns plenty from your family but that you all will learn even more from her.

If you are interested in hosting a foreign exchange student, TMoM was able to find a couple resources for you:
1. Ashleigh was connected with her student through Forsyth Country Day School. The school is often looking for host families. If interested, call the admissions office at (336) 945-3151.

2. You can contact Azah Ningo who is the Area Rep for the  Triangle & Triad Regions with ISE South Atlantic.
Email: Azahzi.ISE@gmail.com
Mobile: +1 919-451-0950
ISE South Atlantic: http://southatlantic.iseusa.org
Facebook: http://goo.gl/03VW9E
Craigslist spots: http://goo.gl/j33TxG

3. Visit the Education, Travel & Culture Website.
4. Visit the AFS website.
If you know of additional resources, please comment below!


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