So, Linda and I are with child again. Breathe, breathe. I didn’t say that we are HAVING a child; I said that we are with one. Young adult might actually be a better description. We are hosting another high school exchange student this year. This time it’s a sweet young lady from Australia named Emily.
I have many memories of first meetings with exchange students we’ve hosted over the years, but I can’t imagine ever having one more satisfying than the one that Emily offered. I’d been practicing my Australian accent for weeks…watching YouTube videos, listening to Hugh Jackman and Chris Hemsworth interviews and, most importantly, having a weekend long “Crocodile Dundee” marathon during which I made frequent use of the rewind button on the remote control. By the time the day came, I was at the top of my form and ready to go.
I was nervous. I always am when we meet an exchange student for the first time, despite having done this many times before. See, the thing is, you just never know how it’s going to go. What if she doesn’t like our house? What if she hates our cooking? What if she’d rather live in the mountains or near the beach? Maybe our city is too small for her taste or maybe the school is too big. What if she just doesn’t like us? There are always a thousand questions in my mind and all of them lead to the possibility that this might not work. So yep, I was nervous.
The students arrive in waves over a three day period. Our Emily was in the last wave. Typically, the kids fly in, get shuttled to a motel for a night’s sleep, receive a brief arrival orientation and are handed off to the host parents who will spend the next six to eleven months trying to get to know them. Em’s arrival was bit different in that she had a layover in New York, so she flew in to North Carolina in the morning rather than at night and, when she hit Charlotte, it was straight to orientation for her.
Linda and I were scheduled to pick her up at 4:00 PM, but being anxious parents, we arrived early. We weren’t the only eager parents there though, so we spent some time exchanging small talk with the others. Some, like us, had hosted before. For others, this was their first experience. We were all nervous. The minutes dragged by. Tick…tock, tick…tock. Why was it taking so long? Linda and I had taught orientation classes before. It didn’t take us this long to tell the students to be careful with passports, don’t lose your medical cards, make friends, don’t hide in your room, join school clubs, speak English, practice using a combination lock, and at least TRY the family’s favorite meal once. It really shouldn’t be taking this long.
Finally the door opened. Being the last, Emily’s group was small, only four students walked out of the meeting room. Even from thirty feet away, we could see that she was exhausted. A twenty-one hour flight will do that to a girl. She was walking with an American girl who had been a host sister last year. They were talking and giggling as teenage girls have a tendency to do, so we had just a bit of trouble catching her eye as they approached. But, eventually we did and she smiled and walked toward us.
This was it, my first and only chance to make a good first impression. I took a deep breath, straightened my back, gave her my best smile and said, “G’day mate!” Her smile faded and her brow furrowed just a bit. I panicked. What had I done wrong? Is it impolite to say that to a girl in Australia, I wondered? Did I just screw up my only chance at a first impression?
She moved closer, looked me square in the eyes and said, “That was really bad. Your Australian accent sucks. We’re going to have to work on that.” Then she broke into the biggest grin I think I’ve ever seen and my heart melted on the spot. I knew then that this was going to be a good year.
The best part about hosting an exchange student is getting to know them, really getting to know them, as the time goes by. It’s a slow process filled with steps forward and back. Some things you learn are trivial but enlightening. Em knows what a zip tie is. For most people that wouldn’t mean much. For me it was huge. For me it means that she’s practical and observant. She watched and listened while her dad was working around the house or on the farm. Some things you learn are deeper and speak more to their inner voice. Emily has strong social views and loves to discuss them. In Australia she helped write and lobbied for two laws that were passed by Parliament. One dealt with child abuse and one with underage drinking. Not bad for a sixteen year old teenager.
She’s been here for three weeks and, each day, we learn something new. She loves movies and we try to watch one every night. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, except that her knowledge of movies dwarfs mine. We’ve made a game of me trying to find a movie that she hasn’t seen. So far, I’ve only found three. I hate losing. Her favorite movies are action movies and she has a special place in her hart for Marvel. In that regard, she reminds me a bit of my good friend “V” in Ireland. She and V share another common characteristic. They both have a great “Daughter to Daddy” look. That’s the look that girls share with their fathers under special those sets of circumstances that V describes as:
“Ah, the patented daughter to Daddy look, to be used in, but not restricted to, the following situations: when they need a few quid, when you do or say something that’s somewhere between endearing and worrisome or embarrassing, when they need a favour, when you play air guitar in the car, when you share a joke or an understanding that only Daddies and daughters can… and again (because it is the most important one) when they need a few quid. ;D”
This is Emily’s Daughter to Daddy look. I received my first example the day I took a photo of her getting ready to bite into a gourmet caramel cupcake. Effective, isn’t it?
So what else have I learned? Well, she loves ice cream and is willing to pay the price (private joke). She smiles incessantly to the point of getting muscle cramps in her jaw (an endearing fault). She has two sisters who love to pick on her (but if a boy breaks Emily’s heart, I promise that no one will ever find the body). She hates getting up early in the morning (I wonder if our family tree converges at some point in England). She has no tolerance for hot sauce (we’re going to have to work on that). She can talk intelligently to anyone, at any time, about anything (a talent most adults don’t have). She is absolutely devoted to her friends and cares about each of them passionately (another characteristic often lacking in the adult world). She has a mean fastball and her coach bats her in the cleanup position (more’s the pity she won’t be here for softball season). She has a down to earth sense of humor that I’m just beginning to explore (a quality that will serve her well in life). She can’t be trusted with a camera (but neither can I, so the world appears to be in balance). Most importantly, she has a mom and dad back home who have raised her to be strong and independent (a goal that every parent should strive to achieve).
We usually have our exchange students for the entire year but, because of how the Australian school year is timed, Emily will only be with us until January. That means that there’s a lot of getting to know each other to be done in a short time, which means that I have to go now. I have homework to do.
“G’day mate.” “G’day mate.” “G’day mate.” “G’day mate.” Damn, this is hard! “G’day mate.” “G’day mate.” “G’day mate.” “G’day mate.”
P.S. Emily does have at least one irksome habit. If she doesn’t stop removing her fingernail extensions by latching on to them with her teeth and violently twisting her head to the left until they tear off with a sickening crack, she and I are going to have a long, long talk.
P.S.S. I just love it when she calls me Darl !