A few years ago, the Browns' first exchange student literally stormed out of their home, leaving them heartbroken. Fortunately, this brave, boisterous, fun-loving family decided to try again. And they’ve been hosting happily ever since! Why did they decide to try again?
Heartbreak to Happiness
“I was done,” recalls host dad Kevin. "We put so much time into making everything perfect for our first student. She was like a real sister to my girls, and I wasn’t going to put my family through that again.”
"We thought everything was going well," Emily explains. But then came a weekday where two busy parents needed the girls to fend for themselves after school...and the student was not happy about that. "I said we're busy and if you need a family to cater to you, then we can look into that. You're not forced to stay with us."
Emily never imagined the student would take her words literally...
But with no further ado, the student called her coordinator and left in a huff. "It was gut wrenching," Kevin recalls with a grimace. The family had been so excited to host an exchange student. But after this heartbreak, would it be worth it to ever try again?
Then Emily met Jennifer, an ICES Local Coordinator. Jennifer listened carefully to the whole sad story and said, “I don’t think you guys are the problem”. The two spoke for about six months before Mom even told the family what she was up to. "It was by far one of the best decisions I ever made," states Emily.
As a seasoned professional, Jennifer knew a cross-cultural misunderstanding when she saw one. And that’s how Tai from Thailand became the Browns' second exchange student.
Take Two: A Match Made in Heaven
“With Tai, it couldn’t have been better – other than Coronavirus,” Emily chuckles. “Anything you asked him, he did it. If you said, 'You need to do dishes and take out the trash,' it was done. He never went to bed without chores done. He never hid in his room. He did his homework at the table. When he struggled with history and film class, we made flashcards.”
Every generation of the Brown family fell in love with Tai from grandparents to grandchildren and everyone in between.
The whole family was on guard at first. So, how long did it take to break the ice?
“It took about a week,” according to Emily.
“I think it was between Halloween and Thanksgiving before we relaxed,” Kevin interjects. “Every day I was asking, 'Are you okay? If there’s anything going on, you’ve got to tell me.'" Both parents were determined to keep the lines of communication open at all times.
Bonding for a Lifetime
But this really was a match made in Heaven. “Every day we’d see relationships being built between every one of the kids,” beams Kevin. “Tai really had a special relationship with everyone in the house, including the grandkids. I can’t even explain how different the relationships were.”
Tai became a real brother to each of the girls. He formed a special, close relationship with each member of his host family.
“Allie and Tai were just like real siblings, horsing around, building bridges across the doorway,” says Dad, and Mom adds, “They were always doing something crazy, from literally climbing the walls to being on each others’ shoulders.”
Allie and Tai were always up to something . They loved climbing the walls - literally.
Meanwhile, Shelby and Tai enjoyed spending time outdoors playing sports. “He played American football while he was here. He was teaching me the football plays.” And they also loved shooting hoops or roping in Allie for a game of cards or time on the X-box.
Making Host Dad Proud
“With Tai it was a steady dose of backyard catch. He was out playing basketball, helping with gardening, or out jumping on the trampoline with the girls or the grandkids,” recounts a very proud host father.
Homecoming was just one of so many memorable occasions the Browns enjoyed with Tai. He enriched every day of their lives for 10 months.
"One of my favorite things about Tai is that he had a phobia about getting dirty, like he wouldn’t pick up a chicken leg with his fingers," Kevin can't help laughing. "By the end, he got over that.”
Making Mom Proud too!
“He worked his tail off in basketball and football practice,” host mom enjoys remembering. “He got very little playing time, but he made a lot of friends. When he made his first free throw, the whole school went nuts! The last game of the season he made his first actual basket. It was a 3-pointer and the whole team jumped and hollered. It was great to see the relationship he had with the team.”
The entire family rooted for Tai as he tried out new sports like basketball and football. And Dad loved having a boy at last!
And then Tai from Thailand learned how to cook...Thai food! “He didn’t like cooking at the beginning,” Emily admits. “We showed interest in some Thai meals, and he said, ‘I’ll try to make that.’ Then he found out he liked to cook!” Soon Saturdays became a special time for mother and son to bond in the kitchen as they learned to make a variety of Thai dishes.
Joining the Family
Church is important to the Browns and much to their delight, Tai was happy to attend. “He would never miss church on Sunday,” says host sister Shelby. “One day he overslept, and mom texted him and he said, ‘Can you come and get me?'”
In the fall, host sister Allie was thrilled when Tai signed up for their church’s State Convention. “It was one of the main things that helped him break in and be part of the church,” she remembers. “We stayed in a hotel. We got to swim. There were sermons, worship, and fun activities.” And Tai loved every minute of the experience.
And most heartwarming of all?
“Tai never wanted to leave us,” says Emily with a touch of nostalgia. And Shelby adds, “He asked to go out with friends once. He went out only once. He just wanted to stay home.”
“He was really just a natural blend for our family,” Emily concludes.
“We love to entertain ourselves doing anything from trying to knock whip cream off a spoon and then trying to catch it in your mouth or having a towel fight or a toilet paper war in the house," Dad laughs. And Tai loved every minute of it.
But, come spring, Tai was preparing to leave. Would the family host again? Definitely!
“We had Tai sit down with us and help us pick our next experience,” says Kevin. As he explained to his new son, “You are part of the family now. Help us pick our next student.”
So, Tai helped them choose Amanda from Brazil, but unfortunately, the pandemic was about to throw a wrench in their plans...
“It was the middle of May when Amanda cancelled because of Covid,” Kevin recalls, and Emily adds, “We picked out two other students.” But they too ended up cancelling… Then they fell in love with Nele from Germany, but she too had to cancel due to the pandemic.
“We decided to take a year off,” Emily decided. Then ping! There was a message from Jennifer, the coordinator: she had a girl from Germany and two host families had cancelled on her.
What was there to think about? “We’ll take her!” Emily replied. And the family was overjoyed.
Take Three: Another Success Story
And that’s how Juliana from Germany joined the family as their third exchange student. It was another happy success!
“This year with Juliana it was a steady dose of playing cards and she brought a board game from Germany,” Kevin recalls. She also brought a very fun game called Karriere which quickly became a family favorite.
The pandemic simply was not a problem. It was a steady dose of Brown-family-style-fun with towel fights, bonfires and food fights. Everyone loves to recall the night they had ice cream and Juliana was watching Dad smother his ice cream in chocolate syrup. "She opened her mouth for a taste. The opportunity was not wasted as I gave her a little syrup and then covered her face in chocolate," laughs Kevin. "This is our own kind of crazy."
And, Take Four - and Five!
The Browns are very excited to have Nele (left) from Germany and Ondra (right) from Czech Republic this year. They have been FaceTiming with them for months.
This year the Browns are double-hosting their fourth and fifth exchange students simultaneously. Nele, the German girl who had to cancel last year, finally convinced her parents to let her go to the USA. Meanwhile, the Browns had invited Ondra from the Czech Republic. Why not host both students for double the fun?
After months of FaceTiming, both students have arrived safe and sound to their new home. And now, a new adventure has just begun.
May the Browns continue hosting happily every after!
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a placement doesn’t work out and the student moves to a different host family. This can be disappointing and discouraging, especially if it’s your first time hosting.
However--just as the Browns discovered—don’t give up! While it may feel scary or risky, trying again can result in the hosting experience you hoped for.
Let your Local Coordinator help you find a student that is a great match for your specific family, and chances are, the student will fit your family and vice-versa!
Right now, we are looking for host families for students arriving in January, as well as for students arriving next fall. With hundreds of students to choose from, chances are there’s one that’s just right for YOU!
Check out this article from porch.com in which experts give advice on how to have a successful hosting experience: