Family Practice: Proud to be an American’t?Written by Shannon Szyperski | | email@example.com
Nine days before his arrival in the United States, my sister, Michelle, read a mass email explaining that there was a desperate need to house a 15-year-old exchange student from Germany. Having housed two prior exchange students, one also unexpected, my sister and her family moved swiftly into action. My 5-year-old niece’s violet bedroom walls were soon painted over a dark blue, and her furniture was swapped out for some more fitting for a teenage boy. In just a few days time, my sister and her family were able to open up their minds, their hearts and their home to a stranger traveling from 4,000 miles away.
My “nephew” Konstantin became an official unofficial member of our family last September upon his arrival in the U.S. We spent the next nine months learning about him, and he about us. In addition to embracing a new culture and primary language, he was immersed in a new kind of family. After 15 years of being an only child, he was suddenly one of four with seemingly countless aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. We enjoyed many a holiday, birthday, crazy day and lazy day with our new Deutsch Freund.
My children quickly grew fond of their honorary cousin. It wasn’t long before drives to events involving my side of the family included the question, “Is Konstantin going to be there?”
As they so often do, the months flew by and we recently bid Konstantin auf Wiedersehen. At his farewell party, my sister played a video of him from his first American week, somewhat stumbling to extract the right English words necessary to convey his thoughts. As I realized the fluency alone that he had gained in such a relatively short period of time, it occurred to me just how much we are each capable of giving another person simply by opening ourselves up to them.
Not a year goes by that I don’t hear about at least one or two organizations struggling to place exchange students in American homes. Even short-term stays and non-live-in international matchups seem prone to not enough willing hands being raised. Having experienced firsthand what it’s sometimes like trying to persuade someone to give an hour or two of their time, I can’t say that I am completely surprised that it’s difficult to convince people to add another place at the dinner table every single night. Yet, it is still disheartening to know that Americans are falling short when it comes to non-obligatory social courtesy and growth.
Are we too good? Not good enough? Too busy? Too private? Too important? Too apathetic? Do we think we are already globalized enough? Is it just too hard?
I can’t help but wonder if our arms-wide-open, can-do, taking-care-of-business, let’s-roll American attitude of the past is, indeed, a thing of the past. Our love affair with red tape seems to have spilled over into the decision-making process we use in our personal, everyday lives. We force ourselves to plow through a ridiculously large mental pile of reasons something can’t be done instead of just taking an initial initiative to do it. Yet, how much might we be missing out on while attempting to justify the not doing?
When I informed Elaine, my 5-year-old, that it was time for Konstantin to return to his family in Germany, she immediately replied with the utmost sincerity, “But I’m not ready for him to go.” Neither was I.
Toledo Sister Cities International is still seeking families to host international students during its International Youth Academy July 20 – Aug. 6. If you are interested in hosting or would like further information regarding hosting opportunities, please contact Prof. William D. Hoover at (419) 531-8242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shannon and her husband Michael are raising three children in Sylvania.