Seasons of Silvia – Life with an Exchange Student

Last year my husband Brian and I called my mom to tell her we were going to be surrogates for a couple who couldn’t have children on their own. Her response was, “You guys do the strangest things.  Will you promise me one thing, can this be the last family member that you bring into our lives to love and then send away?”  She was referring to our beautiful exchange student Silvia who, recently, spent 10 months in our home.

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When I first presented my husband with the idea, he chuckled and shrugged and then looked at me in shock.  “Are you serious?  You want to have another person come LIVE with us?”  Why not?  We’re about as average Midwestern as a family can get, and have fun things to offer a person from another country, so Yes, I’m serious.   A little research and a few profiles later, he was all about bringing home an exchange student!  
We got a few sideways glances, plenty of questions, and more than one “you guys are crazy” comments.  Our boys however, never fully bought in before she arrived.  They were hesitant about the idea of bringing a complete stranger – a girl no less – into our home!  They didn’t understand what the point was, and couldn’t envision what life would be like with a Slovak- speaking student who we knew nothing about.  But I just knew this was going to be a fun adventure!
During the course of the year we found – sometimes the hard way – that our communication styles and home expectations were not the same.  The roles that we play so well in our own families needed to be adjusted to fit with new family members.  There were times when we just didn’t see eye to eye, and admittedly there were times we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.  But more often than not her laughter, finesse in the kitchen, and her unwavering enthusiasm drew us in and captured our hearts.  
Even the boys who were wary of this lovely young lady taking over their bathroom with her perfumes and lotions and hair ties were smitten by this new sister.  Often we’d hear her scream, followed by Christian’s mischievous laughter – his favorite activity was hiding around corners and jumping out at her.   Not much time would pass between their hangouts in the basement.  The three of them were much like siblings who didn’t always agree with each other, but still sought each other out to rehash their days and vent about their obnoxious American mom.
I too found myself relishing this new role as a mom to a girl.  I had someone to share interests with, someone to appreciate silly dances and girly movies with.  I threw my first ‘Pretty in Pink’ birthday party when she turned 18.  We had several evenings of giggly girls hanging out at our house, and one of my favorite memories is when she and I shopped for prom dresses at the MOA – I never thought I’d get that chance.  We spent a beautiful day together and came home with the perfect dress after a perfect day.
I never did pick up on her language as well as the boys did.  Of course, we didn’t share the same interest in which Slovak words we wanted to learn, and theirs were not words to be repeated outside of their car rides together.  I did try a few new recipes, and learned about her customs, culture and family.  Fortunately technology keeps us close as we can be when we’re thousands of miles and 7 time zones apart.  Her face smiles back at us from picture frames, and her laughter rings in my ears sometimes.  
Life after she left took a little time to readjust to.  We had adjusted to our new normal with a girl in the house, and suddenly she was gone.  I had a renewed appreciation for the boys I am a mom to, and my husband truly is one of a kind.  The day she left I cried in her bedroom for hours.  It took weeks to walk by her room without crying.  I missed the things that were great, and I grieved the things that weren’t.  I wished for more time to overcome the obstacles, and I celebrated the chance to reconnect with my family.  
Hosting an exchange student was a rewarding experience, one we are glad we took on – and one we recommend that everyone try!  However, I wouldn’t say that Brian and I would jump at the chance to host another.  There were a few rocky moments during those 10 months that we wouldn’t want to repeat.  We also couldn’t replace or do better than our Silvia.  We couldn’t picture that room belonging to anyone but her.  The room that spent 5 years as the guest room is now affectionately referred to as Silvia’s room.  We’re better for having had her share a year with us. One day we’ll visit her and experience her world – and forever we’ll have a daughter who filled our hearts and our home for a brief moment in time.

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