Ok, first, before I get into the meat of this little discussion, I just want to say: I get it. I’ve been there. A friend of your wife works for this organization that finds host families for exchange students like she’s handing out pokemon cards (ask your kids what those are) and she “just happens” to need a family for a student and yours would be “PERFECT FOR HER!!!” (Don’t eye roll yet, there will plenty of time for that later.)
Or your daughter comes home from high school one day talking about how so-and-so is gonna “have an exchange student from Italy this year” (like she’s choosing a puppy or something), or your co-worker sees an ad on social media about how these students from so many other countries are eager to come this fall, and the organization is looking for. . .host families.
Then it hits you. This person, this friend, this coworker, this student, even this child of your very own flesh and blood . . . They are actually asking you to bring a student you’ve never met into your home, your castle, your sanctuary of peace. Do they know what they are asking? If you already have children, you may think, “Is this person serious? I don’t like it when Fred from Fed Ex drops off my wife's Amazon order outside the garage for fear of his glancing inside the little garage door window and catching sight of my secret shame, the hideous catch-all storage area we refer to in our home with muted whispers as . . . Dad’s Hoarding Unit.” Trust me--I get it.
Or maybe you have achieved that next-level greatness known simply as The Empty Nest. No more hiding your Häagen-Dazs in the garage freezer so the kids don’t find it. Open conversations with your wife about whatever you want, whenever you want. Meals with soft music. Or watching the “big game” every week. Sole possession of the remote control. I know . . . it’s Nirvana. Believe me when I say, I get it.
But see here's the thing. Actually there are a bunch of things. (You can toss in a few eye rolls here, so buckle up.) If you forego the opportunity of hosting an exchange student, you honestly have no idea what you’re missing!
First--You get to go to NewFoundDadLand.
Yes, I’ve been in all the scenarios above, but I’ve been somewhere you may not have been yet, and you really need to go. I call it NewFoundDadLand! I’ve hosted exchange students from all over the world. 15 and counting, last time I checked... (but my wife isn’t home from WalMart yet, so who knows what the day will bring?) Yes, I said 15. And guess what? IT. IS. AWESOME!! All that stuff I mentioned before: the garage, the “Empty Nest”, even the Häagen-Dazs . . . it will all still be there waiting for you after your exchange student takes all the memories you build together back to his or her home country.
NewFoundDadLand is full of firsts for you, again. Yes, again. The throwing-a-baseball lessons. The stacking wood. The favorite family picnic or trip spot. All those fun family memories become new again. You get to introduce them all to a student who will soak them up like a sponge and still want to learn more! NewFoundDadLand. You have GOT to go there!
Second – You become the cool Dad (maybe again, maybe for the first time, or maybe you just take it to the next level).
To adults, you are the Dad with the vision and foresight to understand exactly how much your kids are going to learn from having a new brother or sister from a foreign country living with them for a while. Your family will have a better grasp of world events, culture, and maybe even politics (never mind, let's stick with world events and culture*). To your children, you are the dad that said yes when you could’ve easily said no. You are once again The Dad that wants to go places, do things, and share your family with this brother or sister “from another mother”. And maybe, just maybe, this season of exchange will bring about a closeness of shared experiences that your whole family will benefit from.
Third – You will learn what the REAL (insert country-of-origin of your exchange student) is like!
The news is different for my whole family now. We have hosted students--and know many other students--from literally all over the world. Hosting widens your vision of how we view other countries. And how they view us. You will quickly figure out that the stereotypes you have of your student’s country and culture are not always what they are cracked up to be. You will realize that “different” and “wrong” aren’t interchangeable. And if you’re one of the lucky Dads, you might even learn a thing or two about yourself that you wouldn’t have thought about if not for your newest son or daughter.
And finally – DAD JOKES!!
You have no idea how hard it was to not lead with this. Dad jokes… the stuff of legend. Sometimes it’s a simple pun or incredibly over-used movie quote. Often it’s a joke you’ve told so many times your kids cut you off before you can finish telling it. Sometimes it’s something so random, so out there, that your exchange students will pass the stories about it down to their own children.
The point is, hosting an exchange student provides you with a fresh audience. No eye rolls, no sighs. (At least not until the student becomes a real part of the family--which doesn’t take long.)
There are so many opportunities to have a little fun with this English-is-my-fourth-language exchange student who isn’t completely sure if you're joking or serious when you tell them the typical American response to “What’s up” is Chicken Wing. (Don’t worry--the rest of your family will be there to keep the student from permanently learning anything crazy.)
We all end up having a laugh and a crazy amount of eye-rolls as my wife explains that most of the time, I am joking around. And the kids assure the exchange student that they have his back. And that is exactly what Chicken Wing is intended to do. Dad jokes, puns, humor, and even Chicken Wing, have the amazing ability to turn awkward moments into memories of hilarity. Laughter does that. It brings down walls. And laughing together, as a family, multiplies the bonding power. So let the dad jokes fly (within reason, of course*). But by laughing at the learning and awkwardness and horrible puns, you will be building more unity in your family, exchange student included.
So, what's it gonna be there big guy? Are you ready? Your local ICES coordinator would be happy to work through all of the pre-screening and student-finding with you and the gang. They realize you can’t just shoe-horn any student into any home. They’ll help you find one that fits your family. And to be honest, that is one of the most fun parts-- getting started. Because thats when you start to feel the excitement. It’s good, btw… the excitement.
And in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the answer to the question a few lines earlier is: No, you aren’t ready. Just like when you found out you were gonna be a Dad the first time, remember? How “ready” did you feel then? Just like real life, the experience won’t be all sunshine and Häagen-Dazs. Just like anything good in this life, you will have to put effort into it. But that’s ok, right? After all, you’re The Dad!
*(My wife made me say this)
How does Hosting an Exchange Student work?
Hosting will benefit your family in so many ways! It's an adventure that is enriching, educational, and fun! Here's how it works in a nutshell:
We'd love to talk with you, answer your questions, and show you some student profiles. This could be the experience you've been looking for!