Would you take in someone else’s child into your home for a year? A teenage boy, none the less. A young man, who did not speak English fluently with the goal to experience the American culture and perfect the language. That’s precisely what my family and I did, last summer, and it turned out to be one of the best years of our lives.
Jaime came to us at 17, from Spain, in August of 2015. His kind, gentle, and energetic personality, was immediately adored by my kids. Within a couple of months, he became an instant “big brother” of sorts.
Jaime attended our local High School, rode the school bus, and even took his lunch in a brown paper bag -because he was here to experience all things American culture.
He made friends easily, tried out and made the starting varsity soccer team at the high school, and came with us in all of our family’s adventures. Good thing we have a minivan to accommodate so many passengers!
Jaime is the second youngest of 4 children, so naturally, he was a great fit for our large family. Having been an exchange student myself, one of the things that help make the transition into a host family a little easier is entering a family of similar size. An only child might be overwhelmed with the chaos and noise of a large family; because let’s face it, there is always something going on in the house. Alternatively, a child from a larger family might feel lonely being an only child in a host family (this is typically never a good idea).
Mornings at our house with Jaime around were a lot like they were before he came to stay with us. Any given day, you’d find my kids running around in their PJs, and I eventually stopped “getting dressed” for our guest and also walked around in comfortable clothes (PJs, ahem). His favorite thing to do for breakfast was to eat Frosted Flakes out of one of my “I Was Here” mugs. Every.single.day.
Something I often explained to my family and friends is that taking someone else’s child in your home for an entire year is not like having a guest for long. Eventually, the newness wears off, and everyone adapts to a new routine.
That said, we never excluded Jaime from our family trips and adventures, if I dare say, trips were better because he was with us. This year, we took Jaime to the beach and also in my annual Mom + boys ski trip.
Normal things, like getting haircuts, were a lot more fun with Jaime around. My boys do not like to get haircuts (does any boy do that willingly?) and with Jaime’s help, haircuts became a “boys-only” outing. Jaime’s presence and positiveness were felt in so many little things, that really, every day was better that the one before.
His big brother relationship also extended to my daughter. Jaime has an older sister, Christina, whom we’ve hosted eight years before and will be interning for my company this summer.
One of the things I appreciate most about Jaime stepping in as the big brother of the bunch is his willingness to help and how he took responsibility for his chores and helping me with the kids. That positive attitude became a year-long example for my daughter, our oldest child.
Now that Jaime is gone, our daughter will have to be the one to feed the cat at 4:30 pm, switch the washer to the dryer, and other small but necessary house chores.
As you can imagine, going anywhere with four kids can be a challenge, but Jaime always made sure to help me. He was my designated car seat and seatbelt checker as well as my buddy who helped me push the cart, check out, load and unload our groceries from our weekly shopping trip. It takes a lot of food to feed a family of six and Jaime was always an incredible help.
My favorite shopping experience occurred this past month when I took Jaime to Costco for the first time. Over the last year, he’s come to love breakfast night just as much as my other kids; and he’s been my designated bacon-cooker every week. I will say, a pound of bacon doesn’t go far when you have a teenager and a bacon-obsessed four-year-old.
At Costco, he bought a big bottle of maple syrup, and I sent him home with a 10-pound bag of pancake mix for his family. While I have many pancake recipes in this website, Jaime said that they never turn out well for his mom and sister in Spain and they are his brother’s favorite American breakfast item. So you could say he was thrilled to bring back a huge bag for his family to continue the breakfast-night tradition.
Saying “goodbye” to Jaime was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in a long time. I felt like I was sending our kid off to college for a year; when in truth, I was sending him home to his real mom who was as excited to have his son return as I was sad to see him go. Letting go is always the hardest part, even when you know that the experience will be short lived.
This year has taught me that I can love someone else’s child as much as my own, my husband is patient, kind, and very flexible, and my children’s little hearts fill with joy by having more people in our home. This was, thus far, one of the best years of our lives.
Have you ever hosted an exchange student? Or, have you been an exchange student yourself? What was your experience like?