Representing America: Why We Invited a Foreign Exchange Student Into Our Home
Many factors influenced our family decision to accept a foreign exchange student into our home: the desire to expose our daughter to someone from another country; and the hope of showing the student that Americans are great people.
Apparently, Americans aren’t well liked in France (or in other countries for that matter).
“When I was in high school I spent the summer in France,” my friend, Kelle said when I told her we were opening our home.
“Yeah, but that was when everyone liked American’s,” Gary interjected.
His comments gave me pause, and strengthened my resolve to provide the best darn example of life as an American. For those reading this in other countries, please do not judge all Americans based on what a few “stupid tourists” do, or the decisions politicians make. American’s are hard-working and just like you, trying to do the best we can with what we have.
Being a good example starts at home, literally. With my stepson’s room now empty, I filled the thumb tack holes, sanded the walls, and applied a thick coat of paint, then scrubbed and waxed the floor. Loosing count of the hours spent refurbishing the room, what mattered was providing a warm and cozy environment.
1 Week Before
The week before Lucie’s arrival, Mother Nature spikes a fever. Temperatures climb to 106 degrees. My lawn withers to dust. So much for making a good impression by having a lush green lawn, I return to the bedroom, clean the windows, remove the screens and give them a good scrubbing while making a mental note to clean the front porch. There is still a stack of firewood in the corner, and three bushel of October beans waiting.
I also realize Lucie’s room needs a dresser. I locate a suitable piece of furniture in the basement. There is plenty of time to refinish this, I thought. After lugging the piece onto the front porch and beginning the project, I quickly realize my limitations and drag the piece to the end of the driveway where I tape a FREE sign on the handle. I’ll use something else.
3 Days Before
I have made progress with the October beans. I now have one bushel. Taking the shelled beans upstairs where I lay them flat on the pool table, I instruct Jamie that in “no uncertain terms” should Lucie go upstairs in the “dump everything” zone.
Serious attempt at housecleaning begins.
2 Days Before
The beloved and I are sitting at the kitchen table, a table he built with his own hands years ago. As he runs his fingers across the dull finish, I read his thoughts.
“Go ahead; I know you want to re-finish the table.”
“Where’s the paint stripper?” is his reply.
Leaving him to his project, I work on the living room and realize that I live in the dirtiest house in America. Where did all of these teeny tiny spider webs come from?
1 Day to Go
I receive an email from Lucie. She is traveling from the West Coast of France. Her trip to the US will be a long one. She boards a train, travels for 9 hours, arrives in Paris and then waits for the plane to bring her to America.
I secretly hope we live up to her expectations.
It is on this day that the main heat pump decides to croak. My beloved. Genius. Fixer of all things believes he can repair it. Orders a part then returns to sanding the table (indoors) while I focus on scrubbing my teenager’s bathroom that she insists she has cleaned.
My fifteen-year-old has also cleaned her room. Translation: she has scooped up all of her clothing, dirty-or-not, and deposited it into the laundry room. I tell the 15 year-old to put down her iPod. She can shell beans and listen to music simultaneously.
“Learn to do two things at once!”
I am a bit on the edge.
After appointing her Chief bean-sheller, I brave my office. Quickly, becoming sidetracked by hand-written notes that, at the time of their creation, I knew their importance; I waste a solid hour googling people to figure out who they are and end up tossing most of the notes.
Shave dog…with dull shears. Photo says it all.
Eat dinner in living room on tailgate table we use at the football games. Realize how cool this eating arrangement is and accept that this may be how Lucie eats her first American meal.
11 pm: 1 Day to go
Beloved sands table and applies 2nd layer of varnish.
We are both too excited to sleep.
Day of Arrival
5 am: awake to the sound of beloved sanding table, then the fragrance of varnish.
Secretly haul copious amounts of trash to the church dumpster. Make mental note to increase offering this week.
Wipe down the walls, and wooden baseboard surfaces. More spiders in kitchen. Amazed that they survived the sanding process.
Mop floor. THREE TIMES.
Tie dog to banister. She is excitedly making every step I make, shedding short hair with each step.
Begin waxing wood floor. One glance at the clock is all it takes for me to realize that the rest of the house will NOT be ready. I am very discouraged. I am a bad American who can’t even keep a clean house.
Help 15-year-old daughter assemble scrapbook for Lucie and kindly suggest she actually cleans her room because Lucie may want to sleep in one of the two beds she has.
Begin the “cram and close” cleaning method. Instruct Jamie that Lucie is forbidden from entering the laundry room and shouldn’t open the closet either.
Leave for airport disappointed that I did not accomplish everything. Forget GPS unit.
We are all excited. Even though we realize the impossibility of perfection, we want everything to be “perfect” for Lucie. We aren’t a typical American family. We don’t watch a lot of television, hang our clothes out to dry on a line, and grow most of our own food. We sit down every single night to dinner as a family, hold hands and say the blessing.
We love her! Instantly. From the moment I see her my heart (and eyes) overflow with love. I can’t imagine the emotions she has felt leaving her family and traveling so far just to visit America. What a risk she has taken? I think about the other students, how nervous they must have been. None of these students knew each other. They aren’t from the same area. Their only commonality is their ability to speak the same language. I pray for these students and for the host families. I hope the hosts realize that they represent the United States of America and work as hard as I will to show her what is good about this country.
Once she settled into her new home (for the month of July) Lucie’s first US meal was homemade pizza and made-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies. Gooey, sweet and filled with love.
Welcome to America, Lucie!
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