By Jillian Sims: AYP Compliance and Operations Manager
For Kati and her family in Colorado, adding an exchange student to their family unit has turned out to be a rather magical and, at times, a bit of a musical experience.
It all started a few months ago when Kati was registering her daughters at their local high school. “The three of us went from table to table crossing off items on a checklist. We arrived at one table and glanced down to find a photo of a smiling young lady along with her bio. Out of curiosity we picked it up and began reading about her. It was at that moment that the lady across the table, the local exchange program director, asked if we would like an exchange student. Finishing the bio, we responded, “Yes. We want this one!” Maike’s story read like that of our own daughters. She shared many common interests, likes, and dislikes – even to a common phobia of spiders! We did explain that we’d have to discuss the idea with my husband and our other two daughters first before committing to hosting Maike. By that evening, ‘Dad’ and the other girls were completely on board. We filled out all the forms and within four days, Maike was ours!”
Though it hasn’t been that long yet since Maike has arrived from Germany, the family has no shortage of fun memories already created with their new family member. You can find Maike and her host sisters, Hannah and Sarah, writing and singing original songs, or perhaps learning the words to “Let it Go” in German. Even family dog, Liberty, gets in on the action. And there have been other memorable and funny moments too, like one of Maike’s first days of school when host sister, Hannah caught Maike staring absentmindedly at a banana. “You know you have to peel it, right?” she offered. The lot of them fell into peals of laughter as Maike assured them that Germans are well aware of how to eat the cross-cultural fruit.
Host mom recalls another mishap involving the ice bucket challenge. “One of our favorite memories with our ‘new family’ is of three of the girls –
Maike, Rebekah, and Hannah – doing the ice bucket challenge. The combined weight of the full bucket of water plus Maike’s statuesque height meant Rebekah missed Maike’s head entirely and caught her right across her shoulders. The momentum of the bucket propelled it into Hannah, who slipped and fell causing Rebekah to come down as well. All three challengers dissolved into laughter as well as those of us who were filming the process.”
Of course, there are also times for more seriousness and other chances that the family has had to bond. Both the family, and even school faculty, have taken an active part in helping Maike increase her English proficiency in the first few weeks and months, which has been challenging at times. But how did the family meet the challenge and what can they offer as advice to other families in similar situations?
Kati begins at the core of her family’s key to success with Maike: “To someone who has never hosted before, we would say, first and foremost, be deliberate about communicating. Be open, patient, proactive, and positive! When it comes to ‘issues’, whether at school or on the home front, engage early on and communicate expectations or come to some sort of an agreement that is satisfactory.”
Speaking about her student’s academic and language concerns, “I think that helping Maike through difficulties at school begins at home… By patiently explaining processes, words, and situations she encounters at home, she is less stressed by what she encounters at school. We made a point of meeting all of her teachers the second week of school and inquiring as to how we could best team up to help her adjustment. Some of the teachers placed English dictionaries on her desk to facilitate better understanding, and all of them are available to give assistance to her. Parents and teachers alike encourage her efforts. I assist in homework by working with her when appropriate, quizzing her on vocabulary words and explaining concepts that she is unsure of. We also were proactive in tweaking her schedule of classes so that it was a better fit for her abilities.”
Overall, it has only been a fraction of the year that Maike will spend here, but the family considers themselves a solid unit and cannot imagine life without her already. Host Dad, Matthew says, “We chose to love her from the start!” Kati describes her family and how Maike fits within, “We are a military family and are always trying to instill resilience in our daughters; Maike possesses that virtue in spades! She is an incredible role model to emulate with regards to having a positive attitude, facing uncertainty with poise, and dealing with difficulties with composure and courage.”
Maike herself says, “I love my host family!” It seems pretty clear to everyone, that the feeling is mutual.
Want an experience like this for your family? Consider opening your home to an exchange student and learn how you can apply to be a host family by clicking here.