Friday, March 9, 2012

someone new, someone borrowed, someone blue?

Last night I was thinking about all of my host families, our current Korean daughter, our French and Spanish daughters, our kids with Aspergers, all of the challenges that come with hosting and supervising and truth be told, I was becoming a little bit overwhelmed.

Then it hit me.

How does one "learn" to live successfully with a roommate? To be an adult at work with others? To be married? To be a problem solver outside of one's family?

I was thinking back on my younger days there was family which had one big family dynamic for 18 years, everyone knew how the family worked and then BAM...there were college roommates...a completely different scenario. My roommates spoke a different family language than I did, one was disgustingly messy, one was OCD neat freak, the messy one loved to cook dinner every night and the OCD one loved to complain about the mess. I don't know where I fit in cause I'm just me. None of us knew how to manage money or pay bills, how to divide the food costs of what we ate together, or anything remotely business like. You did NOT speak to one during one week out of the month or you'd get your head bitten off by a raging lunatic. When one had her boyfriend over very late every night and it really bothered me I just sat in my bed reading while they sat in theirs. I didn't say anything because I had no idea how to handle it. I didn't want to be rude to someone not in my family. Now if that had happened in my family I would have run over and sat on them all and started bouncing and telling embarrassing little kid stories, then run up to tell on them, "DAD, Adam has a GIRL here!" I didn't have an in between, didn't know how to interact family style with someone that wasn't raised with me, with the same family cultures and customs, with the same ideals.

I mentally froze. I don't want to try to communicate. It's not worth it. This person is not my family. I don't want to be rude. You have to be polite and not say anything. That's it, communication over.

This is where I am starting to see something that I have never thought of before. The good times with our students are amazing and the challenging parts, well, they are challenging. But now I understand that they are there for a reason. My kids are learning how to communicate with someone who was not raised as a family member but is trying to become one, they have different cultures, ideals, and methods of communication. What I would view as "proper" respect is different in each country and in each family. One student retreats to their room when finding they've done something wrong, one rushes to fix things and try to make it right, one gets frustrated and says so right then and there.

Learning to communicate and problem solve with different new family members is giving my kids a gift that doesn't generally come until college or marriage.

If I could describe the look of shock and horror the first time our new "big" sister told her "little" sister in typical foreign blunt style that she needed to hurry because she was always, I'll remember that look forever. Anger, sadness, embarrassment, frustration and then looking to me for help. I stayed silent and let little sister think about it for a while, little sister got over it and started to be a little faster. Life lesson learned. Thanks big sister.

The time one got into the shower and the other got up late? Well, we won't go into that but there were communication lessons learned.

An exchange student is meant to be a real part of the family, they do what the family does and they assimilate into the families habits and customs but they also bring their own habits and customs and ways of dealing with problems to the mix. They have to learn how to show respect in our family and we have to learn how to show them respect and show them that we're understanding what they're saying...even when we don't really understand. An exchange student isn't always happy and a host family isn't always happy, most certainly neither are always perfect.

Hosting=many awkward pauses as we learn to live with a new family member and they learn to live with us, as we think of how to best communicate with the "new sister".

I am so happy that we have taken this challenge and our family has had the blessings of learning to work with three individually unique new family members and big sisters. I hope that these lessons will follow my kids and my new kids through college, work and marriage and anywhere they have to learn to communicate with someone who thinks differently than they do.

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