Ways That Having An Exchange Student Has Changed My Family

In August, we took on a 17-year-old exchange student from Norway. Though we called her our “Norwegian Daughter” from the beginning, it took some time for her to earn that title.

It is now April and I am proud to say that she has passed the family test with flying colors. I remember the exact moment that it happened – we were making Boller, a Norwegian sweet roll – for Christmas breakfast. I looked at her rolling out dough with my 10-year-old daughter, both covered in flour, and realized that this would be my only Christmas with her. My eyes instantly filled with tears, knowing that our family’s traditions were forever changed.

The moment passed, but there have been many since. There is a constant sense of needing to live each moment, because there will be no second chances. Each event, holiday, family vacation will be both a first and a last.

This has been a lesson for me in living my days fully. It is cliche, but true, that we don’t really ever know how much time we have with those we love. All over the world, someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, or best friend is touched by unpredictable tragedy. At times, it is loud and public. At others, it is a quiet personal tornado that devastates a close bond without warning.

Fortunately, I know when the plane will carry away my girl. I have some time to prepare all of us for that eventuality. I am working very hard to live with “no regrets”, and that goes for all of my close relationships.

Some of the changes are small. We have actually started eating dinner together – at the table. It has been increasingly difficult with spring sports schedules taking everyone in a different direction, but when we are home we sit and eat together. We talk about our days, and make silly jokes. We linger and laugh. We connect.

Bedtime has been a little later, but easier because my kids aren’t fighting for my attention. Everyone gets greeted in the morning, and wished a pleasant day. And the first thing out of my mouth when I see them at the end of the day is to ask how their day was. And then, I listen.

There have also been some bigger changes. These are slower and require more adjustment, but we are getting there. I quit my full time job and have been very mindful about how I use my time. I am making an effort to fill my own cup so that I can give more freely to my family. I have nurtured those relationships that nurture me, and let go of those that don’t. I am gentler with myself, which helps me be gentler with those around me. I work to see the beauty in everything and everyone.

I am extremely grateful for the gift of new eyes with which to view my family, and for the Norwegian mother and father across an ocean who were willing to share their daughter with us. Her presence has taught us to communicate more freely, and to love more openly.

Those are the lessons of a lifetime.


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3 Responses to Ways That Having An Exchange Student Has Changed My Family

  1. Dixie Klemish says:

    I LOVED your post about your Norwegian daughter being a real part of the family. I have a Bangladesh son that I feel the same way about!
    I am a foreign exchange student coordiator in Wisconsin and treasure my experiences with the students I supervise and their host families. The worst part of the job is finding those host families. I was wondering if you would give me permission to use part of your blog post in communications searching for families and encouraging them to host? This would be in places such as school and church newsletters and perhaps small town local newspapers. Thanks for your time and for sharing such a beautiful story!!!

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