See the World, No Visa Required

Early last month a friend sent me an email with the subject FW: Student Cultural Exchange.

"Exciting opportunity," the two words leaped at me as I slugged three short paragraphs to grasp the important details. Age range: 13-16, male or female. Commitment: 1 week, July 6th to 13th. I made note that only eight privileged friends were recipients of the message. Until I read the last sentence, "Feel free to share with others!" My friend is charming, but she is also practical.

Interestingly, our thirteen-year-old conceded reluctantly to the novel idea of hosting a Chinese student for one week. My guess is that his regular summer routine - daily swim team practices, and swim meets every Thursday evening - causes little anxiety. In addition, sticking to his assigned school projects and reading lists, is easy and comfortable. Moreover, when we sat to discuss the opportunity that evening, he must have thought hard about the adjustments required, about coming out of a comfort zone. He must have reflected on the new experience (that would change perspectives and notions about people from another country). Indeed, he is shaping into a kid that prefers to hold fast to his handful of close family and friends.

Photo credit

The rest of us - my husband and our oldest son who is barely past his teens - viewed it as a chance to create meaningful relationships, to discover new ways to view social practices, to develop a fresh understanding of cultural differences, besides what the headlines present, besides the stereotypes.

That night we voted 3-1 on the matter. The following morning I submitted our application to the organizing entity and then waited patiently for a response.

A week later we received our acceptance letter and "Host Family Handbook," from Adventure Homestays Abroad.

That same week, He-Who-Voted-No announced:

"I've learned to say hello in Chinese! Oh, and I forgot to tell you mom, a woman called from China a day ago, and asked whether I knew we were hosting two students. We are getting two now, mom?"

"I taught myself Chinese on YouTube," he continued merrily, all of his earlier anxiety having vanished like magic.

I was too busy sorting through the new information – two students – and weighing the pros: they would keep each other company; it might make their transition easier. My husband agreed. There were no cons as far as we could see, just two extra mouths to feed for a week.

In preparation, we have studied the contents of the handbook:

1) Your Goals and Expectations;
2) Welcoming your Student;
3) A Photo Essay Activity;
4) Family Rules Activity;
5) Cultural Problems;
6) Problem Solving;
7) Expectations of International Parents;
8) Host Family Commitments and Responsibilities;
9) Student Rules; and
10) Emergency Information.

Just yesterday, my son’s twelve-year-old friend exclaimed with some modicum of respect, "I can't wait to meet the Chinese students. They are so smart!”

Indeed, in the “Student Information” section of the boys’ bios they both listed Physics as their favorite subject. In addition, they each listed their “English Names” as Daniel (13) and Kame (13), respectively. But, I will insist on learning how to pronounce what is listed as their “First Names” Xiang Yu for Daniel; and Fangwei for Kame.

Xiang Yu’s favorite music band is Back Street Boys and Fangwei’s favorite street climbing star is Danny Macaskill.

I wonder what they will make of our household’s favorite music. Salif Keita, Mbilia Belle, Fela, Sade…

And our favorite foods: Ugali na sukumawiki, Fufu, fried plantain…

Photo credit: Fufu (pounded yam) with Egusi Soup

As we say in Kiswahili "Tutaona!" We shall see, in a couple of days.

Mingi Love,

Mama Shujaa


  1. What a wonderful opportunity for your family and the student!

    - Judy

  2. He-Who-Voted-No... hehe. Looking forward to hearing how this experience enriches your lives!

  3. What a gift to these boys that you have opened your home to them . . . and for you too. I used to be a regional manager of a program that placed foreign high school students in the home of Americans for a year. It was a wonderful way for Americans to see the world too without traveling. How did it go?

    My son's prom date is in China now as an exchange student for a month.

  4. Judy, Maxine and Sarah - thanks for the comments. Had to travel overseas unexpectedly the day after the students, when I get back to the U.S. of A., next week, I will share the wonderful experience!


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