One day in April 1996, I had taken a day off from work to accompany Jordan on a Kindergarten class trip. Enjoying a cup of coffee with the morning paper, I noticed an article about a 17 year old Pianist from Germany who was eager to spend a year abroad. Specifically she wanted to attend the Creative and Performing Arts High School in South Philadelphia. The Exchange Organization, Ayusa, routinely placed students in the Philadelphia suburbs. To attend CAPA, this student would have to live in the City and they were looking for a Host Family. This seemed like a great idea to me. I've always enjoyed teenagers and I liked the idea of having another female in the house (besides our crazy dog). I had been fascinated by Europe since our trip to Belgium in 1984, and there were no European trips on our horizon at that time. Hosting an exchange student would be a great way for us to learn about another culture while sharing our own. And, it would expose my kids (then 5 &8) to life outside of So. Philly (something that I had not been exposed to until my college years). I knew that I would have to sell this idea to my husband.
That evening I excitedly broached the idea with DH. He looked at me like I had 3 heads. "you want to do what, bring a teenage girl that we don't know to live with us for 10 months? Are you crazy"? I calmly explained my reasoning and he reluctantly agreed to explore the idea. Unfortunately we learned the next day that the student in the Newspaper had already been placed. However there were at least 30 other European students eager to spend a school year in the States. We agreed to meet with the Coordinator the next night, once she assured us that the Exchange Organization had contacts with Philadelphia Magnet Schools. We had explained that we wouldn't send our own kids to the local high school, so we certainly would not send a guest!
The next evening we reviewed applications from students in Germany, Norway,& Sweeden, as well as from Russia, Mexico and Brazil.The applications included a wealth of information about each student. Their parents would provide them with an allowance for spending money and purchase health insurance through AYUSA. We would become their American parents - feeding them, supervising them, and incorporating them into our normal family life. My husband quickly warmed to the idea.
We selected Anna, who would turn 17 in 10/96 and was from a suburb of Bonn in Germany--providing that AYUSA could get her into Masterman Laboratory & Demonstration School. This is a magnet school well known for it's academic excellence ( and where my kids would eventually attend) It was located in a nice area that was easily and safely accessible by Public Transportation, and it was only 5 minutes from where I worked. Ayusa suceeded in doing this and Anna arrived in August 1996.
Being a host family exceeded our expectations and we repeated the experience 4 more times. Each of our "daughters" left their mark on our family. We learned so much from them about their countries and cultures, and they learned from us as well. There were bumps along the road, especially initial homesickness and early struggles with the Language at school. All of the girls adjusted quickly, made friends and settled into life as an American teenager. Each spoke some English when they arrived and each was quite fluent when they left (they each also left a few pounds heavier, too). I especially enjoyed shopping for prom dresses with them and listening to their trials and tribulations with friends/boyfriends - experiences that I would not share with my 2 sons since boys are different! I also learned that, in general, there is a lot more drama involved with girls than there is with boys. Many tears were shed upon their departure. All except one have been back to visit and stay in touch.Sadly we never heard from Vicky (England) once she got on the plane. I often wonder what happened to her.
In 2001, we decided that Carlotta would be our last exchange student. It was a tough decision as we really enjoyed the experience. Our kids were 10 & 13, and were swimming competitively.They, had swim practice 5 nights/wk. My husband had decided on a Career Change. He was in Grad School and started to teach. We didn't think that we could give a third kid the attention they deserved. We had been incredibly lucky with all 5 of our exchange students and decided that we would be content with the many positive experiences & memories!