You know how people say having kids is a handful? Like some things, it’s always hard to imagine something until you actually experience it yourself. For me, that experience came a little earlier than expected. Don’t worry, I am not pregnant.
This year, I decided to participate in the Tam High Global Studies Program and host an exchange student from Pamplona, Spain. Since March of this year, she and I had been in corresponding through text and email, getting to know one another. From this communication, I knew the basic facts about her, such as her interests, foods, favorite subject- literally the attributes you find in profiles in an online dating website.
Like most people, I had some preconceived ideas of what it would be like to host an exchange student. Before she arrived, I thought about how I would make various accommodations for her, like taking her out for lunch everyday, saving her a seat in class, speaking slowly to her in english (since Spanish was her first language) but had this naive idea that she would simply comply to whatever plans I would make for her.
On the first day she came to school with me, I thought it would be a breeze. She would simply sit next to me in my classes and we would go wherever I needed to go, no questions asked. Looking back on my egotistical attitude, I was way off. Pretty frequently, she would keep asking me what our plans were going to be after school. Obliviously, I had not thought that far. I assumed she would come home with me, and watch spanish television or something, basically occupy herself as I finished my homework.
As you could imagine, that wasn’t the case. Since I hadn’t made an after-school itinerary for her, she independently started making plans to spend time with other exchange students. By the time lunch rolled around, she had already coordinated the plans and told me afterwards.
As much as I love my exchange student’s independence, this raised a few dilemmas. As a sophomore participating in the exchange program, most of the other Tam students hosting other exchange students were upperclassman that I didn’t know particularly well at the time. She would specifically asked to see her friends who were other students that came from Spain participating on the exchange trip. With that in mind, I would have to go to the American hosts of those exchange students (essentially strangers to me at the time) and ask if my exchange student could go with them after school. Coordinating this entailed making sure the host could actually take my exchange student, figuring out what time to pick her up, and if my parents could bring her home, since I can’t drive.
I felt like a parent. Remember when you were little innocent child and would run to your parent right after school and tell them you wanted to have a play-date with your best friend, someone you probably met for the first time that day but you both felt that you cultivated this insanely deep connection? Then your parent would give you an unclear response and would probably say, “Let me talk to your friend’s parent.” As you eagerly waited for your parent to deliver a verdict, the idea of dealing with logistics probably never crossed your hyper mind at the time. But as I became the parent in that situation, I saw if from a whole new light. Whenever the logistics wouldn’t work out and my exchange student couldn’t spend time with her friends after school she couldn’t understand why even though this was relatively infrequent.
For the remaining time she stayed with me and didn’t go away on excursions, we found our common routine. I would drop her off in the student center as she and the other exchange students would occupy themselves. They all seemed pretty much glued to their phones whenever they had wifi. I would go to class and by the end of the day, my exchange student would tell me who she wanted to go home with and I would make arrangements.
From an academic standpoint, the idea of making homework a priority outside of school and it taking up hours of my time was a cultural shock to her. My exchange student was stunned to see the countless hours I would spend on my school work when I was not in school. By making my school work a priority, the biggest challenge I faced was making sure she was okay at all times. I tried to make myself accessible and told her if she needed anything, I would be there to help. From making plans for her to spend time with other exchange students, to keeping her occupied when she was bored, my ultimate goal was to give her a positive experience to see what life is like in America.
Looking back on this experience, I felt like I grew. Being an only child my whole life, I had never been responsible for another person for long periods of time. In a way, it was like a having a sibling, the only differences were that she and I got along very well and she didn’t speak fluent English. Overall, hosting an exchange student was a rewarding yet tedious experience.