Foreign Exchange Mom

Gretchen's my name, hosting's my game. :)

Relief, Thy Name is Information

There is nothing more frustrating than a lack of information. Especially when it comes to your children. Lauren left America on August 11 to go to language camp in Hedersleben, Germany. She left with no host family assigned to her. Just a few days ago, she received word that she now has a host family. They live in Düsseldorf. I can’t describe the relief that we felt knowing that she will not be homeless next week after leaving language camp.

On a side note, we have been able to welcome Julia into our home! She has been with us for two weeks and has not slowed down since she arrived. She has moved to a new town with us, traveled with us to our son’s graduation from basic training, and started school. She is EXHAUSTED!!! But, she has done it all with a smile on her beautiful face. 🙂

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Look out Germany!!!

She’s gone! Yesterday, we took my sweet ginger daughter to the airport and waved until we couldn’t see her anymore. She flew into Washington DC, yesterday and will fly to Germany today/tonight. When she comes home, she will be a different person. The innocent sweet girl that hugged me goodbye yesterday will be replaced by a world traveler!

I think that’s what scares me the most about this experience. I will miss watching her grow up. My prayer for her is that she has a host family who loves her like a daughter and will guide her as I would. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am so proud of Lauren that I cannot contain it! She has always been independent and has always amazed me. The CBYX program is just one more example of her incredible spirit!

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Germany Bound

Alternate! On April 1st, Lauren received notification that she had been chosen as an alternate. It was a sad day. She was so disappointed. Then, on May 13, she received an email that would change her life forever! She had been promoted to recipient!!!

Ninety days ago, we began preparing Lauren for a ten month experience in Germany. Today, we will head to Dallas and her flight to Washington DC leaves at 8:30 am tomorrow. The next time I hug her, she will be a different person.

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Refresh! RefrESH! REFRESH!!!!

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Earlier today, I received a notification that there was a new post in the CBYX group on Facebook.  It was a cartoon of a young man waiting by the computer clicking REFRESH over and over again.  That is what this week as been like for our family.  We should find out by April 1 whether or not Lauren is going to Germany, so we all feel like we have been waiting in limbo all week.

It hasn’t been all bad, though.  We have been blessed with a visit from our foreign exchange student from last year and her mother!  This has been so much fun!  Our family has not hosted for long, but I can’t imagine host families are able to meet “the family” very often.  They arrived on Sunday and it has been a whirlwind of a visit so far.  Of course, we are in school so, Susanna has visited at school for two days and her mother was even able to observe in the classroom.  She is a teacher in Germany and our education systems are VERY different.  Today, Susanna and Gaby are making dinner for us.

It has been an inspiring experience to get to know Gaby.  She has an amazing daughter only because she is an AMAZING woman!!!  We are so blessed to have such wonderful family!

Now, I must go and see what’s for dinner!  🙂

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The Hardest Letter We Have Written

Tonight, my husband and I wrote a very difficult letter. We wrote a letter to the future host family of our daughter. No, she has not yet been accepted, but she must have all of her paperwork mailed in to the program office by March 28.

I was going to type out what we wrote, but its after midnight and I have to work tomorrow. 🙂 In the letter, we mostly express our gratitude to the host family for opening their home to Lauren and we talked about how much we will miss her smile and laughter.

Lauren had to have a physical in order to complete the application. So, we visited the doctor today and took care of that. We will mail the packet tomorrow and then we wait. Read the rest of this entry »

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Today’s the Day!

This day came much sooner than I expected. Today, we will take Lauren to Austin to be interviewed for the FLAG CBYX program. She’s ready … More ready than I would be. She looks radiant!! This girl AMAZES her momma!!! Strength and poise are the first things anyone would notice in her.

My prayer for her today is that she will shine to the committee and that God’s will be done!!!

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Celebrations!!

CELEBRATE!!! That is my favorite activity! Last night, we celebrated my youngest son’s third birthday. Daniel was so patient as he waited for all of his siblings to get home. He was so thrilled when everyone was home so that we could finally celebrate him.

It has been so much fun to celebrate different things with our foreign exchange students. We always made a big deal out of their arrival at the airport. We had signs, balloons, smiles and hugs! There is always a gift exchange. In fact, we have celebrated birthdays, Christmas, Easter and countless other holidays and achievements with our exchange students.

As I type right now, we are headed to another celebration. My sister in law and her husband are dedicating their two foster daughters in church this morning. These girls have been a part of our family for two years now and I cannot imagine life without them. I am honored to be a part of this celebration and so excited about the day. What a blessing!!!!!

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The Challenges

Every mother knows the challenges of motherhood. Dirty diapers, late nights, early mornings …

Hosting brings about all new challenges for families. Language acquisition is an obvious challenge.  Our “Italian son” has had more difficulty with this one than our “German daughter.” We were having hamburgers for dinner one night and Francesco asked me to pass the okra. We all looked at each other with question marks shooting out of our heads!! He asked again to pass the okra and pointed at the pickles.

With Susanna, our biggest challenge was that we got so close to her that it was very hard to say goodbye at the end of the year.  We still stay in touch with Facebook and Skype, but it is not the same.  She is actually coming for a visit in two weeks with her mother.  We cannot wait for her to meet Francesco!  They will have so much to talk about.  We have gotten close with Francesco, but in very different ways.  I rely on him for so much!  He is WONDERFUL with my three year old son, such a great big brother.  It is very difficult to imagine how we will feel when it is time for him to return to Italy.

We are facing the strong possibility that Lauren will be living in Germany next school year.  That possibility has it’s own challenges.  There is no doubt in my mind that Lauren will be able to face any and every situation with grace and poise.  I just hope that we can make it without her.  We lean on her more than we really should for babysitting and helping with the house.  She’s like the second mother of the home.  When I start to worry about how we will get along without her, I am reminded about the benefits that she will receive.  Our family is so blessed that she has even made it this far.

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Becoming a foreign exchange mom

People often ask how our family got involved in hosting foreign exchange students. Our journey began around five years ago when my daughter, Lauren, mentioned that she would like to be a foreign exchange student. My husband and I began researching organizations and made the decision to host. We wanted to give her the opportunity to witness the day to day challenges associated with living in a new place with a new family.

In retrospect, I think there may have been a ulterior motive, to dissuade her; however, hosting did nothing but encourage her more. Lauren applied to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program in 2012. She participated in a phone interview and did not get any further in the process. We were hosting a beautiful young lady from Germany, Susanna, at the time. We made a bargain with Lauren at that time that if she did not receive a scholarship the next year, that she could graduate early and participate in a gap year program.

In 2013, Lauren applied for the YES program and the CBYX program. She recently received news that she is one of 64 finalists for the CBYX program! She will participate in a face to face interview in two weeks. After that, 50 students will be chosen as participants. I think that she was hoping to be accepted to the YES program, but I am so excited that she has a chance to live in Germany.

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