In honor of Exchange Student #7 joining our family, I thought it would be fun to take a little trip down Memory Lane. . . I'm going to introduce you to our past exchange students and give you the scoop on how they landed with us.
First up, meet from Hong Kong
She was our first "borrowed" kid and will always have a special place in our hearts! She was with us in 2015-2016. People thought we were NUTS adding an extra kid. I mean, we had FIVE littles...ages 8, 8, 6, 6, and 3. Clearly we had lost our minds. (I mean...will you look at how LITTLE my kids were?!! Where have my babies gone??)
We might've been crazy. (Maybe we still are.) But...Heidi came in and loved her role as big sister to my crazy crew. And I guess we can blame her...if our year hadn't been so wonderful maybe we wouldn't still be at it going on 7 years later.
Did you know?!?
You get to choose your student based on your preferences. Boy or girl. Home country. Interests. Etc. You get to look at their complete application to make sure they are the very best fit before you are matched.
Next up, meet Lu Han, the sweet girl from Shanghai, China
She came to us under less-than-normal circumstances. You see, we *thought* we would be an every-other year host family...so we didn't actually select a student for the 2016-2017 school year (and quickly regretted it).
However, right after the new year our agency reached out asking if we would take in a student for the weekend while they found a permanent family for her. (Things hadn't worked out with her first placement and she was being asked to leave.) Of course we said yes. And in that one weekend, we fell in love with this art-loving, cat-ear-wearing, quirky girl. (Seriously y'all...nearly everything she wore had cat ears on it.)
Only one problem...she wasn't zoned to our high school...and our district wouldn't budge. So...for the remainder of the year (from January through the first part of June), we had to transport her to and from the high school on the other side of town.
Did you know?!?
Students come with all of their own spending money to cover cell phone, outings with friends, family trips, haircuts, football games, prom, etc. I joke and say that the only financial commitment on your part is that you'll see an increase in your milk and cereal spending (especially with boys! ).
Next up, meet from Finland
Our daughter in 2017-2018. This girl flew in and the following day Hurricane Harvey hit. We had literally just finished our walls after the tax day flood, and here we were flooded again. The amount of water and devastation was unreal. We baked all.the.things. to pass the time while we were flooded in. And then once we could get out, we spent our time serving others. She got down and dirty and helped strangers like a true Texan. She commented, "Everyone here is so nice to each other. Even to people they don't know."
In the year that she was with us, Anna became more than a borrowed daughter. She became a friend. The night she arrived she said, "There is something that every exchange student wants to know...why did you pick ME?" The best I could answer..."We just knew you were the girl who was supposed to be part of our family." And boy did that prove to be true! SHE was EXACTLY who our family needed. And WE were EXACTLY what she needed.
Anna is our only student who has had a parent come visit at the end of her year. And her mom just so happened to visit during the one week where we had a random flood! Yep, went to church like normal that morning. Came home and everything was flooded. Her mom stood at the windows and kept saying "I have never seen rain like this!!" Meanwhile we are moving furniture to higher ground. By this point, Anna was a flood PRO. She said, "Mom, you've got to come walk in it!! You'll never see anything like this in real life again!!" And in her church dress, her mom walked out into the flood waters.
Did you know?!?
You don't have to have a big house, endless money supply, and travel the country every weekend to be a good host family. (Y'all...we spend our lives at the ball field...less than exciting for an exchange student.) These kids truly just desire to come and live as an American high schooler for a year. To live as part of an American family. To go to American high school. To ride the bus. (Makes me shiver...but seriously they dream about it!) Our organization offers several trips throughout the year to our students. Things like Six Flags, NASA, and even Hawaii and the Grand Canyon. (Trips are, of course, subject to change due to everything going on right now.)
Meet , the first boy to steal our hearts!
In 2018-2019 we decided to try something new. (And honestly something we never thought we would do.) We chose a BOY!! When I saw his application, I knew he was the one for us!! But Rob was a hard-no on a boy. But I *knew* that he would be ours. (For real, we had him on hold forever because I wasn't going to let anyone snatch him from me.) The kids made a list of pros and cons that I presented to Rob on our anniversary date.
Rob: "What do you want for our anniversary?"
Me: "A Pablo."
Everything I imagined teenage boys to be, he wasn't. He wasn't stinky and gross. He was the sweetest kid and fit in with us perfectly!! He formed such a special bond with my youngest...and she still adores him to this day!
Him and my kids created a breakfast restaurant called PDE's (Pablo, Drew, & Emily's). We had menus and signs. In fact, there are still signs hanging in our kitchen 3+ years later!! Emily was the waitress, Pablo was the sous chef. Drew was the cook. The rest of us had the role of patrons. It was a whole ordeal that would take up nearly an entire Saturday. Our grass was overgrown...but our bellies were full!!
There is SO MUCH more I could share about this gem of a boy. He was THE BEST!!! (Yes, I know. I say that every year. But every year it's true. ) I couldn't have imagined just how beautifully a teenage boy could fit into our crew. (ank Pablo. If he had been a screw-up, you wouldn't have gotten your chance at living the Nordlander life! ) and y'all can th
Did you know?!?
All family dynamics are welcome! You don't have to be a stereotypical two-parent home with two kids and a white picket fence. Empty nesters. Working parents. Single parents. Same sex couples. House. Apartment. Farm. All can offer a great home to our students!! These kids only know THEIR experience. And they love their experience and that you were willing to open your home...and your heart...to them for 10 months.
She was our Spanish daughter in 2019-2020. Y'all...we thought hurricanes and flooding and spontaneous puppy-birth was crazy. (<-Forgot to tell y'all before that we walked in from the airport with Pablo to find that our dog had given birth all over the house!!!) Who knew that that level of crazy could be topped?!? Enter...a global pandemic!!
There's something important you should know about Carla before I go on. She...is an only child. Or was. We tossed her right in to all of our loud and crazy on Day 1. I can't imagine being in her shoes.
I remember early on telling her, "If we are too much, you just need to say 'Can I have a few minutes in my room?' and we won't judge you." Her first month or so she was adjusting to big family life (<-it's a real thing) and there were times she needed to step away. (I feel ya, sister! I do too!!)
But...before long, she was one of us! Loud and crazy and right in the middle of our peopleyness.
Carla's year started off normal (as normal as a Nordlander year can start)...but by the end it was anything but normal. Because...umm, hello...a pandemic that shut down the world.
There are so.many.stories. that I could share about our time with her. But I'll boil it down to a few bullet points.
...another spontaneous puppy-birth
...getting a Christmas photo in our matching jammies in Tractor Supply (yep, sitting on the dog food)
...learning a Spanish song that causes a blanket-wearing-log to poop candy for you when you beat it with a stick
...living room Prom when the real thing was canceled (fancy dresses and all)
...getting to extend her stay well into July because of lockdowns back in Spain
Y'all. She was exactly the calm we needed in a crazier-than-normal year. She was a best friend to my oldest. (They still talk every single day....probably because she misses all of our noise.) She was...and is...so, SO loved by us! And I can't imagine our lives never having known/loved her!!
Did you know?!?
These students have a dream to live as an American high school student for a year. They don't expect to travel the country on exotic vacations every weekend. They realize that they are coming into a home where (most likely) the parents work...and they have school. They truly just want to experience American school with an American family. They want the friends and football games. Homecoming and Prom. Riding the big yellow bus. Walking the halls of a school they have only seen in movies. For real...the awe you see in them as they get to experience new things is something that I could never adequately put into words. It's simply beautiful!!
Meet , my sweet Finn
He was our German son in 2020-2021. Funny story about how we chose him. I had returned from a trip with our exchange organization to Thailand...and had fallen in love with the people and their culture while I was there. So I came home and informed the family that we would be hosting a Thai student. As we began looking at applications, my kids absolutely fell in love with Finn. (Well, really it was his younger brother Felix who excitedly said, "And I'm Felix!!!!" in his application video! My kids STILL occasionally reenact it. ) But I was still on the Thai Train. All it took was my kids chanting in unison, "Finn! Finn! Finn! Finn!" for me to realize I lost. But oh how I WON!! We all did!! Finn was absolutely PERFECT for our family and I wouldn't trade our year with him for anything!!
He could often be found outside playing basketball with the boys.
He could put away more milk and cereal than I thought humanly possible.
He was so loving to my youngest (who can be a bit high maintenance).
He went through some pretty big life changes with us.
He taught Drew how to say "squirrel" in German... and it might be the funniest sounding word ever. (Or maybe it's just Drew.)
He LOVED Sonic and every time we got in the car he would ask if we could go. "I'll pay!" was his way of trying to convince me if I said no.
I think he tried a burger at every restaurant we went to. Pretty sure his mission was to find the very best burger while here. (I think the one at Hard Rock in San Antonio won, am I right Finn?!)
He was up for anything. Except my wild idea on New Year's Eve (pictured here). He might want to hurt me for posting this pic again.
Feels like just yesterday we were saying goodbye to him. But I also remember the day we picked him up like it was yesterday. A truck parked behind our van at Meet the Teacher Night...and we had the Principal frantically calling on the intercom for someone to move their vehicle. Which made us late to get him. He had been sitting and waiting on us (for longer than I'd like to admit). But...we had signs. So the first thing we said to him (maybe even before "hello") was "Hold on. Don't get up yet. We have signs!! Let us stand and hold them and we can pretend you're just walking out to meet us."
I say this every year...and every year I mean it. If we could've kept him for forever, I absolutely would have!! But...his family actually wanted him back.
Did you know?!?
This is seriously the most BEAUTIFUL experience. While you go in thinking that you are giving THEM something, what you find is that it is YOU who is blessed through the experience. I tell families "If you go in expecting to have the best year ever, that's exactly what you'll have. But if you go in expecting to have problems, that's exactly what you'll find." It is what you make of it. These are real kids. With real feelings. Who come to live in your real family. As a real family member. It's not always perfect. Please know that. But it IS always what you make of it!
Meet Coque, fresh off the plane from Spain
Did you know?!?
As of this morning there are still a couple hundred kids waiting for their host family. If you have this on your heart, I would encourage you to step out in faith and give it a try. It will bless you more than you can imagine! You think that you are giving a student an opportunity to live their dream...but in the process you will realize it is YOU who gets to live a dream...one you may not even know you had!
Have you ever wondered what it's really like to host an exchange student? Subscribe to our blog (scroll to bottom of page) to follow the Nordlanders' hosting adventure this year. With her brutal honesty and entertaining sense of humor, Dana will give you a peek into her family's journey through the year.