Thursday, October 27, 2011

Foreign Exchange: Part Two, Anders and the Technology Revolution

I don’t think I mentioned in writing about my first student, Chan, that it was during her stay with us that we finally got cable TV. Chan liked to watch movies, so my husband rented a few each week, and finally decided it would be cheaper just to get cable and a movie channel. I don’t think it was, but it was more convenient. Besides, mama finally discovered Home and Garden channel, and hubby’s life hasn’t been the same since.

Our second foreign exchange student, Anders, brought another technological change to our lives: high speed internet access. We had been making do with dial-up service and two phone lines, one for the house and one for the internet. I did actually have a wireless router so I could use the internet with my laptop, but John’s modem was plugged into the extra phone line the old fashioned way.

When Anders arrived, he brought his laptop with him. He quickly discovered that if the second phone line was in use, he could always plug into the first one. People started complaining they couldn’t get us on the phone. Since we already had cable TV and a wireless router, getting a cable modem seemed like the next logical step.

Naturally, these changes led to good-natured grousing on the part of my son, Neal. “I never had cable and high speed internet when I was in high school.” I just looked at him and asked, “How are your friends doing paying back their college loans?” He got the point.

Anders is from Denmark, and spoke almost perfect English. Months into the school year, his fellow students still thought he came from somewhere in the Northern Midwest. He was also far ahead of his fellow students academically. Since he had already been informed he was going to have to repeat his junior year when he got home anyway, he took a lot of elective subjects like photography and coasted through most of his core subjects. He was sort of Neal’s Danish twin, come to think of it.

We got an interesting view of life in a US high school as seen from a European student. There was a stretch of a week or so when someone set off a fire alarm every day. Anders spoke about it like a visiting anthropologist studying the quaint customs of a long lost tribe.

Anders liked cooking more than our other students and could be relied on to start dinner if asked. He really liked making salads, and would cut ingredients three different ways to make designs in the salad bowl. Best of all, he was 6’1 and able to reach all the little household gadgets I couldn’t. 

Anders also had some quirks. He decorated his room with some of our Christmas lights strung under his bed, and didn’t take them down until he was ready to leave. We had a large bulletin board in that room for students to use to post pictures of home and new friends and to keep up with assignments. Before he left, Anders arranged all the thumbtacks to spell “AFS”.

Anders had some older siblings, but was the last child left at home and thus used to hanging out with parents. Whereas Chan usually had weekend plans with friends and left us with a lot of free time, Anders was happy to tag along with us to dinners, movies and the occasional party. He did play soccer with a community group and his high school team, but that didn’t seem to lead to friends to hang out with. He apparently kept up a lot with friends at home over the internet. 

He did get a job as an extra in a movie second semester. That led to a lot of ferrying him around on John’s part. AFS students are not allowed to drive while they are in the US, and most of ours didn’t have a license at home yet, anyway.

It was while Anders was still with us that we went to Thailand to visit Chan. We had wanted to wait until August when I had a two week break, but she was starting college then and it would have been inconvenient. I got my boss to add four days to my Easter break and that gave us two weeks. It meant pulling Anders out of school, but school was easy for him anyway.

We were going to pay Anders’ way to Thailand, since it was our idea to go and we felt that it would be unfair to expect him to come up with the money, but his dad insisted on paying us for his airfare. We also checked with US Immigration to make sure he could leave the country and come back in, and were assured he could.

Anders and Chan got along well right away. It was funny to hear them speaking English to each other. While we were there we met one of Chan’s mother’s friends who told us that her daughter had a foreign exchange student in her class that year. “Does the student speak Thai?” I asked. No, she replied, they just speak to her  in English.

We were lucky to be in Thailand for Songkran, the Water Festival. Chan’s father’s family lived in Chang Mai and that’s where we went to celebrate the festival. We had fun tossing water on passers-by with plastic buckets and getting doused ourselves.

When we got back to the US, we discovered that what we had been told about Anders being able to get back in easily with his student visa was untrue. After a half hour or so of discussions, he was issued a standard 90 day tourist visa that more than covered the time he had left before he was due to leave at the end of June. We learned our lesson about taking students out of the country.

We still haven’t visited Anders in Denmark. He is one of my Facebook friends and we keep up a lot that way. Maybe now that Neal is living in London we can get up to Denmark on our next visit.

(Part One of my experiences as a host mom is here.  Part Three is here.)

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