Foreign Exchange Opens Homes and Hearts

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There are so many more things in this world that unite us rather than divide us. If we’re open to it.
Foreign Exchange student with Celiac Disease at airport
Picking Daniel up at Flint’s Bishop Airport
This is my husband and I, in 2011. Standing to our left is Daniel, a young man from Finland. Daniel came to our home as a foreign exchange student, due to his Celiac Disease. He had been also living with Type 1 Diabetes since he was 5. That’s a lot to carry as a young soul.
Many times on Facebook message boards, you’ll see posts of foreign exchange organizations looking for homes for kids who have Celiac Disease. As we all know, living with Celiac Disease isn’t cheap or easy. Living with Celiac Disease can create lots of limitations. Living with Celiac Disease can keep you from feeling like a “normal” kid. So we took a chance on helping a kid from far away live a normal life.
Foreign Exchange student with Celiac Disease first day of school
First Day of School!
This was his first day of school. We’ve never had children of our own, so this was a big change for us. Even though by now he’d only been here a month, we had learned a bit about Finnish culture, a few words, and we were definitely willing to help me achieve his best. He learned how to walk the dog, we learned how to make his favorite homedish, and we learned a lot about TapOut that year. Like any teen he needed to be reminded to make his bed and do his homework. We taught him how to tie a tie, and encouraged him to ask a girl to Homecoming.

Foreign Exchange student with Celiac Disease at homecoming

Daniel and fellow exchange student Ronja, going to homecoming
He also needed to learn how to navigate eating gluten-free in a foreign country. The United States is years behind in gluten-free awareness, compared to other countries. It was a struggle when he realized he couldn’t get a gluten-free burger at McDonald’s. He was shocked that we didn’t have a plethora of gluten-free pizza options. I made his lunch every day, because that was the best way to keep him safe. After all, it wasn’t just his Celiac Disease we were controlling. If he ingested gluten, it would also mess up his insulin absorption and his Diabetes.
Unfortunately, his Diabetes got the better of us. He spent a week in the hospital with Diabetic Ketoacidosis. It felt like a crash course in motherhood in a very short time. For this and a variety of reasons, he ended up returning to Finland earlier than planned. It was rough on us all, but it was for the best. Regardless of the way it ended, it has impacted our lives for ever.
Foreign Exchange host famlly
Sarah and I

Fast forward 5 years

This past weekend I spent time with my college roommate Sarah. Her family has housed at least a dozen foreign exchange students over the years, many from Spain. It seems like I spent most of my college career saying “Hola” to someone. It was the biggest blessing, being able to learn about different cultures and see things from other view points.
On this weekend, many of the Spanish foreign exchange students and their families were here from Spain. There was a large open house, allowing everyone who had met them over the years to all visit in one place. It drew people from around the city and state. All because someone was willing to open their heart and their home to someone who needed a place to stay. And it gets paid forward- two of the Spaniards whom I knew well have already invited my husband and I to come visit. When someone has opened the door for you, you’re likely to pay it forward.
Foreign exchange isn’t always without snags or issues. People aren’t perfect. Life happens. But in both exchange situations mentioned above. lives were forever impacted. It is a monetary investment- you are not paid financially for housing and feeding these children. (Although there is a tax deduction that can be claimed.) If you can financially afford it, it’s definitely worth the investment. Make sure to verify the organization you are working with is reputable, such as CCI Greenheart. The State Department lists exchange programs on their site as well. Hosting will change your life, I promise.
Have you considered hosting a foreign exchange student? Have you hosted one already and what was your experience? Leave your experiences in the comments below!

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