Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome to America. Would you like trains for dinner?

It occurred to me the other day that Sam is possibly, God willing, going to make it through high school without asking if we can host an exchange student. It’s not that I don’t love the idea. I love the idea very much if other people have it.

Courtney asked if we could host an exchange student somewhere in the first half of her high school career. She framed her argument well, and had I been a person who cared what everybody else did, or craved a vicarious cultural experience, I would have been sold right away. But it was her suggestion that it would really help her early French skills to be communicating with our student non-stop for two weeks that made me say “Okay, let’s do it."

Like anyone, I like to believe that if I care enough, am determined enough, put my whole heart into something – aerobics, preparing fish, what have you – I will succeed. I’ve been proven wrong twice: I look like I am running from bees in an aerobics class. When I have finished preparing fish, it looks exactly like it did under the sickly lights at Hannaford. Much as I tried to retain more in college, my foreign language skills end with “Where is the library” in Italian and Spanish, and “How did you sleep last night?” in German. I worried about the language barrier but shrugged it off, and we wound up with Audrey, whose English was not nearly as good as my French.

We got the room ready. We got Audrey’s profile information. I bought a French-English dictionary. I contacted the circle of parents who did this all the time and asked for advice. We picked up Audrey and I gave her a big welcome-to-America hug.

On the way home, I apologized to Audrey for the very bumpy condition of the road.
“Ehhh?” she said.
“Tell her what I said, Courtney.”
“About what?”
“About the bumpy road.”
She said a few things I didn't understand, and gestured.
Audrey shook her head and said several things in Fren-glish.
“What did she say?” I asked.
“I’m not really sure,” Courtney said. She smiled encouragingly at Audrey who smiled back and probably wondered if it was too late to go back to France.

Later that night, Courtney was asked to work extra shifts at the GAP for the next several days. "Go," I said, "We'll do this." 

It's not like it was Aerobics.

I took Audrey food shopping the next day. French-English dictionary in hand I brought her to the meat department where I asked if she would like some of “these potatoes?” She pointed to the correct word in the dictionary and I said, with much gesturing, page turning, and many hopeful facial expressions, "Take whatever you want and put it in the cart,"  which she did.

Thankfully, exchange students have an agenda which I learned to understand, and Audrey was soon among other exchange students, touring the sights, eating the food, learning the language, and gossiping about the host-parents which is probably when Audrey said in French, “Yeah, but I’ll bet your host mother knows the word for steak.”

But this was not aerobics or fish-grilling. Dictionary at the ready, I asked and learned about Audrey’s family, her boyfriend, her upbringing, her hometown and what she wanted to do when she graduated. Courtney was eventually released from the GAP in time to have a conversation with Audrey before she went back to France. When she did leave, she was not relieved but sad. And, okay, we were too. A little.

I have new appreciation for people who bring in exchange students over and over again, and make it a worthwhile experience for the entire family each time. If I were asked, I’d probably allow myself to be talked into it the way I’ll probably give halibut-wrapped-in-foil another shot on the grill. But the senior year is already here and I haven’t heard a peep from Sam. I’m hoping it stays that way, as much as I hope Audrey finally became a veterinarian or vegetarian or valedictorian the way she wanted to.


  1. This is absolutely one of your best. Trains for dinner? I seem to remember that girl. PLEASE keep on writing..

  2. Oh, you. Of course I will. Somebody has to talk about everyday-ness. I'm just the girl to do it.

  3. FREN-GLISH???? hahahah LOL. Priceless.

    Been there, in Spanish and German. I never got any closer either. They seemed so relieved when they finally met up with their other friends on their trip home, and could communicate without stress.

    You are just my favorite.

  4. It's true Dale, you can see how much they miss their comrades when they get together to compare notes. It's universal, I guess, the joy of being around people who understand us.