The World Outside Your Newsfeed

The Moniz family with their AFS Exchange Student, Martin, from Germany.

Dear Fellow Parent:

Like you, I regularly turn to my computer/ipad/smart phone for news and information about the world. Everything from global politics, to travel advice, to resources for being the best mom I can be to my two awesome kids comes to me daily from these devices. It’s an amazing thing. But is there a limit to how much we can gain from a realm where brevity is key?

News synopses are great when you’re an on-the-go mom like me, and quick tips have saved the day more than once. However, media can only tell us so much about people and their cultures.

The digital revolution was supposed to open our eyes and our minds to the world. But if the nightly news is any indication, misunderstanding still abounds.

This became clear to me when my family and I discovered a much more powerful way to make the world a better place: We welcomed an AFS Exchange Student into our home. Through the experience, we learned so much more about his culture, our culture, and life in general than I’ve ever managed to find online.

During the 10 months that 17 year-old Martin, from Germany, lived with us, our lives and perspectives changed forever.

When Martin left, after I’d wiped away the tears, I sat down and recorded some of the most wonderful memories and meaningful insights from the past year. I’m sharing them with you in the hope that you, too, can take advantage of this amazing opportunity to make a real-life connection, and to help make the world a more peaceful place, for our kids and theirs.

With love and fondness,

Wendy (mother of 3)

Reflections on Our Hosting Experience…

“As Martin’s arrival date drew near, it was so exciting to think about all the things we would to do together this year. The museums and historical places in our own hometown that we took for granted suddenly seemed fascinating and important. Our family traditions and holidays began to take on new meaning as I anticipated sharing them with a new son.

Once Martin arrived, we all began to look differently at even the most ordinary aspects of American life. Things like football, the Prom and the difference between various types of BBQ were fun (but hard!) to explain.

Wendy's kids give their new host brother, Martin, a warm welcome.

We learned anew about our country, as we started to see it through our exchange student’s eyes. (How many national parks are there, and which state has the most!?)

Of course, we also learned about a different country and its culture, politics and food. (Apparently, vanilla sugar is essential to German baking…it took an epic scavenger hunt to track it down so that we could make Christmas cookies together!)

In general, however, the moments that meant the most were the uneventful ones: Cooking dinner and sharing news of the day; Watching TV together in the evenings; Listening to music and singing along; Being silly, playing games, creating inside jokes, and laughing a lot; And just being a family.

I have come to realize that these simple times together are the greatest gift we could have given to our exchange student, as well as to our own children, neighbors and friends.

What I can’t find the words to explain is how deeply we grew to love someone who came into our home a complete stranger just a short year ago. I had no idea I could open my heart that wide to someone from another culture, nor could I have imagined that when I would call this person my son, I would truly mean it. And I certainly never imaged that he could feel the same.

I felt immense sadness when Martin returned home. But I know that the hosting experience goes far beyond the allotted exchange year. It will remain with you for life, and that is pure happiness.

We have had a truly incredible year. How could we not?”

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