Friday, July 30, 2010

My daughter, Ilaria, leaves Monday to volunteer in Scotland for the year. I'm going to miss this beauty of a girl. Thanks for being such a constant source of joy my dear daughter. I love you.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Sunny Day in Seattle

Today was a beautiful Seattle day. The view of Mt. Rainier was spectacular. So, what did I do today? I went to an AFS volunteer training session! I spent all day in a library learning about AFS and our local chapter. I learned a lot and I was surrounded by really good people who volunteer their time to help youth from the Pacific Northwest venture out into the world, and welcome students from all over the world. They give of their time selflessly because they get satisfaction out of being of service. I was very impressed with the dedication that I saw today, and I couldn't help but want to participate in my own way. I'm not sure what that is going to look like. I am obviously hosting, and I'm sending two of my kids abroad this year, but I'm not sure how I can be most helpful to AFS. So tonight's reflection has me thinking about how I can best serve an organization that is devoted to spreading world wide peace. What I do know is that being a good host mom to Gianluca is a good start. That in itself is a challenge with my busy life, but I will do my best. Sending two of my children abroad is another way that I contribute to their process of becoming global citizens.

Next Sunday is our farewell party for two of my children and my niece. I can hardly believe that in eight days my daughter will be on a plane to Scotland. Time goes by so fast. You have to hold them close and then let go when the time is right. Sometimes you have give a gentle nudge out of the nest. I think I'm doing just a little of both with her. She makes me so proud and I'm grateful that she has this opportunity to be of service.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rites of Passage for Us All

I have been enjoying talking with Gianluca's mother online. It helps me to get a window into his world and adjust to make him feel welcome in the United States. I marvel at the ease of communication with today's technology. If I think about it I'm really in the same situation as her, being that I'm sending my son abroad this year to be cared for by another family. What that means for me is letting go and trusting that all will be well. Gianluca's mother will have to do the same. She seems very capable of doing this, for which I am grateful.

It's a big responsibility to care for someone else's child. As a host parent you are signing up to really be there for your student 150% of the time. Not only are they adjusting to a new country and city, they are adjusting to a new family who probably does things remarkably different from their own. This is a scary prospect for students and host families alike. It's also tough on the parents that are sending their son or daughter out into the world. They are choosing to believe that everything will be okay, and as host parents we do our part to make them feel at ease. What that looks like for me is clear communication and that can be challenging when you speak two very different languages. It can be quite comical at times. I like that I will learn Italian by default, simply because it's useful to communicate in this way, and culturally it's respectful. We have learned that the translators on Google are not reliable and will often give you a jumble of words that when thrown together make absolutely no sense. I'd like to think that I can fall back on my knowledge of Spanish, but Italian and Spanish are quite different. I do find that I can read Italian and understand it a little easier because of my experience with Spanish, but there is a lot to learn.

My daughter will leave for her year in Scotland on August 2nd. My son will leave for his year in Norway on August 17th. Sandwiched in there is Gianluca's arrival in Seattle. I think we're going to be okay, but there seems to be a lot of buzz around here. I'm trying to finish up my summer quarter so I can focus on these events. So much to look forward to, so many changes that require strength and grace.

Deep breath.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Decision to Host

So, we have a new family member coming in August. His name is Gianluca and he's from Italy. It's exciting but I have to be honest here, I hadn't really planned on hosting an AFS student this year. In August we're sending our son Noah to Norway with AFS to live with the family of our former exchange student. Also to be considered is the fact that I'm an unemployed full time student, and I am still reeling from the loss of my dad. However, when I went to Noah's orientation for his year abroad I had the opportunity to read the bios of incoming students that still needed host families in the Pacific Northwest. When I came across Gianluca's bio I was instantly drawn to a young man who seemed to be so content and happy with his life and was looking forward to a year abroad. It concerned me that he did not have a family yet, so I asked my youngest Mason if he would be okay sharing a room with a total stranger, and as is typical of Mason, he just kind of shrugged his shoulders and said "I'm okay with whatever"......well he said something like that. He's a pretty easy going guy but this year is going to be different without his big brother around. Maybe this coming year was going to be a year free of a big brothers influence. I did ask myself if inviting a new family member would get in the way of his unique experience this coming school year. However, Mason assured me that he is game for it, and he's looking forward to maybe teaching Gianluca how to ski. He's just open to it, which is cool. That's all I really require.

I've hosted before. The addition of CC (Siril) to our family back in 06-07 was a tremendous gift. She is a remarkable girl and she came to our family in October of her year abroad, having had a poor fit with her first host family. Ours was not a perfect household, but we had a room and a willingness to welcome her. Little did we know that she would so perfectly fit into our family, and more importantly, into our hearts. Not every student will have the same effect on you, but most will. There are struggles and adjustments but if you open your heart, and your mind, to the possibilities of welcoming someone new into your family, great things can and do happen. CC is very much my daughter and I love her like I love my own children. I've also hosted international college students from Japan, Korea, China and Vietnam. They are all daughters to me as well. We have a big and blessed family.

Am I worried about whether Gianluca will enjoy his time here? Of course I'm worried, just like I'm worried about Noah in Norway, Ilaria in Scotland, and Kali in Italy. You want for your kids to have a positive, eye opening experience. Traveling across the globe and inserting yourself into someone else's life is a brave thing to do, and it doesn't always work well. But when it does work well your family expands and your heart welcomes a new family member. I have faith that Gianluce will come with an open mind and willingness to flex with things that are different. We will of course do what we always do, listen. I think that communication is key. From the moment they walk into your life let them know that they can come to you with anything. Let them know that you will listen and be non-judgmental. Being a teenager is difficult! This doesn't mean that there are not rules, because there always are, but trust is key. I choose to trust my children to make wise choices and I give them a great deal of freedom as a result. They have not let me down. When I read that Gianluca's parents had this same philosophy, I was comforted. This next year will be an adventure for all us. We will remain positive and hope for the best, with a clear commitment to providing Gianluca the best experience possible.

Here's to a new adventure!