Thursday, December 8, 2011

Foreign Exchange: Part 5, Mademoiselle from Armentieres

After our experience with Eric, I was willing to call it quits, but John wanted to try for a happier experience with another student. We found Laura, a young lady from France (but not Armentieres) with excellent English skills and a happy looking smile. She responded to our first email, but we didn’t hear more from her until she actually arrived. Like Eric, she flew to Baton Rouge, so we didn’t have to drive to Houston to get her. Unlike Eric, she seemed happy with the city, her room, the restaurant we took her to for dinner. “She seems like the anti-Eric," I told friends.

As it turned out, although Laura was far more polite (and not depressed), she, like Eric, arrived with the idea of finding a different family as soon as possible. To help her make friends, I introduced her to my co-worker’s two teens. Actually, I invited them to come to the water park with us, but since my co-worker had a membership, she offered to take them all. Laura had a good time.

Labor Day weekend we made plans to go to Tennessee to see John’s sister and family and do some sightseeing on the way home. At the last minute, Laura had a request. She wanted to stay home with the T family and go tailgating with them. We agreed, but realized this was a bad sign.

In the meantime, the situation at Laura’s high school was getting worse. When the influx of students from New Orleans had arrived the year before, the Baton Rouge students were sympathetic. By the time the next school year started, lines were being drawn, and fights were breaking out. A few times the police were called. I couldn’t blame Laura for feeling frightened and frustrated.

Once again the T children approached their parents about hosting our student. My co-worker was afraid it would  interfere with our relationship, but I assured her it wouldn’t. Laura wasn’t our possession or prisoner. If she would be happier somewhere else, more power to her. The T’s applied to AFS and were accepted as host parents. Laura transferred to the school in their neighborhood and said goodbye to us. I wished her well. She had an enjoyable year, from what I heard, and still keeps in touch with her host sister.

As for us, we agreed it was time to stop hosting students while we had three happy experiences and two  unsuccessful ones. We visited Anett in Hungary twice, once the summer after Eric left and once the spring we went to visit Neal in Paris. On the first trip, I had bought a necklace for Laura, a swan-shaped charm on a chain, which I gave to my youngest niece instead after Laura left.

Looking back on our experiences with our young friends, I can see some surprising similarities. Counting my son, I’ve lived with teens from four different continents and can confidently say that they all keep vampire’s hours, use their floors for storage, and think the center of the universe is a little closer to their belly buttons than it actually is. On the other hand, all of our students, including Eric, were willing to lend a hand with household chores and picked up after themselves fairly well. I did notice that they each stopped making their beds in the morning after a few weeks. I wish I’d kept a chart; I’d be willing to bet the rent money it was the same number of weeks for each of them.

We’re still in contact with Chan, Anders and Anett. Anders even convinced John to join Facebook. If I hadn’t had those three in my life, I probably would never have been to Thailand or Hungary (we still haven’t made it to Denmark), and possible not yet have been to the Grand Canyon (we went with Chan) or Hawaii (we went with Anett). 

I think about Eric from time to time and hope he is doing well and that someday he’ll return to the US under happier circumstances. Laura I’m sure is doing well.

Would I advise other people to become host parents? I think it’s wise to know what you are getting into. You can make lifelong friends, or you can find yourself with an unhappy teenager who expected something different and wants out. I’m glad we hosted students, and I’m glad we finally stopped. It was a season in my life, and I look back on it fondly.

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