Sunday, August 23, 2009


I am having a moment of sentamentality. I've been trolling around on Facebook, checking in with the many kids I have as "friends", when in actuality, I think of them as my kids and love them as a mom. I see their positvie as well as their negative qualities, but always love them for who they are.

I am such a lucky person to have known all these wonderful young people and I truly hope they remember the gift they have been given and use it to better the world.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hurry up and wait!

My Austrian kid arrived 2 nights ago with an impressive command of the English language (always a bonus). Enough so that he has already understood the wise-ass cracks I make about some things. (I'm going to have to watch myself...)

So the end of summer is upon us and there are a BAZILLION things to do.

1) Get Alex out to Turkey.This alone has so many components.
a) Got to go to the bank , request Turkish Liras.
b)Go to AAA and set up his money transferring card. Look up ATM's in Turkey.
c)Pack, Cha-right. The kid will be one of those who pack the night before and stress out and yell at me. I in turn will yell back and call him an ungrateful lout. All that negative energy eventually spills over into the leave-taking and then the departure won't a pleasant memory that is cherished. I'm on him like white on rice to begin the collection process, meaning, put all the stuff that you'll need in one pile so you aren't running around like a chicken with your head cut off at the last minute. He looks to me like I am speaking a strange combination of Lithuanian and Martian.
d) Clean out his room for the newest kid to take over. OMG. I swear we will find Jimmy Hoffa. (after cleaning out the closet, drawers, under the bed...we paint!)
e) Find out where his passport is...and I mean, find out why the Turkish Embassy in Chicago can't find it after they called and said the visa had been issued and to come pick it up. Our travel agent called us to tell us the news and now we are in the position of waiting...longer.

2) Use the tickets we bought to go to Silverwood. Yeah, this ought to be interesting seeing how I am to pick up Juliet (France) from the airport on Sunday, have an appointment to register the exchange students in school on Monday morning, pick up the foreign $$ at the bank, and if Alex's passport is found by then, he could have a flight out as early as Wednesday... So Silverwood will have to happen on Monday afternoon-Tuesday night. Come home and wash, pack and get Alex to the airport on Wednesday AM... No problem...

I swear, getting all the local kids OUT has been more stressful than getting the new batch of foreign kids in. Once my son leaves, (he's the last one out that I have to deal with - this year) I can breathe...or so I tell myself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The begining of the end...

My youngest son is one of the kids Rotary is sending out for a year abroad. He's been chosen to exchange to Turkey. Since my daughter left 4 years ago to live in Switzerland at the age of 16 and returned safely (although changed in that she now had a disdain for American chocolate and cheese-not worthy of being in the house much less eaten and an understanding of punctuality), I thought sending my 18 yr old son out for a year would be an easy task. I mean, I've done it once, why not again and hopefully I'll get another well rounded human returned to me... Yeah right.

Boys are totally different than girls. Girls talk to you. They tell you if they are scared, they ask fashion advice, they yell at you if you are being the slightest bit judgemental. Hell, girls yell at you for looking at them wrong. Boys don't. At least my son doesn't. Is he scared? I don't know. Does he care what clothes he'll wear over there? I don't know. Does he like the souvenirs I've purchased for him to give away? I don't know. Will he even miss me? I don't know. Being in an Islamic country, all I know is that he'll miss bacon. Sad commentary about my relationship with my son huh? I understand other kids so much better than my own.

I have to hang my hat on the fact that the kids we send out, return changed, matured & thankful to their parents that they have been given such a wonderful opportunity. I see that every year when the kids come home and we "debrief" them. I've counseled so many parents that their kids will be safe and returned to them. Rotary does not take chances. We run the best exchange program in the world. There is a world-wide support network in place. Why then am I scared? Is it because I can't judge if my son has absorbed any of what I've taught him? I get no feedback from him other than surly half-replies. What if he embarrasses me by talking to his host families or the club members they way he does me? Can I tell him not to go until he proves to me he's old enough to handle this big task? Dammit. This is frustrating.

And so it begins....

At what point does one begin to blog? Who's to say what I have to say is important enough for others to follow and possibly quote later?

I'm compelled to write down what I've learned from my observations during the 6 years I've been a Rotary Youth Exchange host mother, exchange officer, district mom, bus trip coordinator and lately, a district youth exchange committee member, not to mention the mother of a rebound student (one who has gone out and returned) and an outbound student (one about to depart for a year). Dealing with 16-19 year old foreign exchange students has been a highlight of my life for the last 6 years. Oh, the things I have learned about the world, how kids think, how mom's react (totally a universal phenomenon), how kids mature when put into a very stressful situation of living a year abroad away from family and most importantly, how I have grown...

I will start by acknowledging my previous students that I have lived with me anywhere from 2 days to 6 months. I've had so many come through my door that my son-in-law calls them FES (Foreign Exchange Student) # ___. I find myself referring to them by their countries when talking to others.

So in order of their stay with me from 2003-2009:
Aron (Brazil)
Pierre (France)
Paul (France)
Axana (Germany)
Tomoko (Japan)
Jahn (Switzerland)
Bank (Thailand)
Iida (Finland)
Lisa (Sweden)
Tom (Czech Republic)
Martyna (Germany)
Jose (Bolivia)
Karri-Ann (Australia)

Since I've already dealt with 6 years of this exchange life, I will occasionally refer to the past but will be typically writing in the present.

I truly believe that I am changing the world one teenager at a time. I wish I could bottle the compassion, understanding and insight these kids learn while on their exchanges. If we all had a small taste of what they get, imagine how much better the world would be.