Although our family lives in the central valley of California, this blogpost is being composed from a noisy street-side cafe in Paris, France. I wish this was my regular blogging location. I wish I could sip espresso and listen to the sounds of a quiet Parisian neighborhood everyday. The truth is that my blogging typically occurs late at night after a majority of my children are asleep and I can find uninterrupted quiet time in my home office.
So, how did I find myself blogging from Paris? Ten years ago, we opened our home to the first of several exchange students. Our first exchange was with a nice college-aged girl from Laval, France. Marion stayed with us for one month. After a decade of keeping in touch and a few return visits by her back to our home, we finally made the trip to visit her in Paris. However, this decade long relationship and mutual friendship was initiated with our initial willingness to participate in the exchange student program.
As a large Christian homeschooling family living in California, we realized that our budget would not allow for regular international travel and it would be sporadic at best. We still wanted to introduce our children to different people and different cultures from all over the world. Almost by accident, we discovered that our town operates a sister-city program. Through an exchange program, residents from our community are hosted by families in other cities throughout the world. Then, families in our town repeat the favor to travelers from our sister cities. So, when asked if we would participate, we jumped at the opportunity.
In our case, yes it was risky. At the time, it began with a phonecall from a good friend who asked if we would be willing to help with an emergency. The program had a 19 year old French woman who needed to be placed in a local home. Without batting an eye or asking my wife, I agreed. No background. No paperwork. No information. Just the request of a good friend and very few details. Yes, that was risky, but as you can see, we had a great experience that has turned into a great long-term relationship.
My favorite memory from Marion’s visit was when I first met her. I had just come home from work and found her in our kitchen. While everyone else was relaxing on the back porch and the kids were swimming in the pool, Marion was rummaging through our kitchen. Through broken English and my non-existent French we exchanged greetings. I didn’t seem to notice that she was wearing a very small French bikini and struggling to find an ashtray. Bikinis and ashtrays were very common and typical in her home, but both were VERY new items in our home, especially since our top three children at the time were boys aged 11, 9 and 7.
In situations like this, growth was inevitable and our world view expanded. As with all of our exchange students, our children learned many things about the French culture. Likewise, our young French students, learned many things about the culture of a Christian homeschooling family.
To this day, I share my favorite memories of Marion and she in turn shares memories of meeting the only homeschooled family she has ever known.
One of the biggest lessons we were able to teach our children first hand is that the world is bigger than the Christian homeschool bubble they had been raised in. We enjoyed watching our kids struggle through a conversation of English and French. We enjoyed learning together that people do things differently, think differently, and speak differently.
Marion has been back to our home twice and now we’ve been to her home. Yes, this experience has changed our lives, for the better. To quote the credit card commercials, it has been priceless.
Are you wanting to give your kids an international experience? If you have the means to travel, by all means take your kids with you and meet the locals! Tours are great, but local neighborhoods and real people are where you have the real cross cultural experience.
Does your church offer missions trips? We took the whole family to Mexico for a dental missionary trip last year. It was only four hours over the border, but it was a great international trip for our kids. You can also open your home to host missionaries. (Welcoming missionaries into our home has been another avenue we’ve pursued over the years).
Taking exchange students into your home might be the next level for some of you. It will require some work. It will require you to stretch and open your home and your family to a stranger. It will challenge you. It will also provide the opportunity to share your faith and the hope of Jesus right in the context of your own home. What a tremendous opportunity this may provide for you.
Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. Let me know what has worked for your family.
From one dad to another (with Paris in the background),