In Exchange

By Natalie

We have some exciting news to share! In a few short weeks we will be welcoming a foreign exchange student into our home and our little family for one entire school year ♥

Years ago I felt this tug that my life was simply going to look a little different from my peers and I needed to stop comparing myself to them. I thought that maybe meant we would become nomads and travel the world together. When we visited Montreal I thought for certain that’s what I wanted.

Then, one month later, we found out that we were pregnant with Felicity after a year of infertility. We went through the early stages of parenthood and then I imagined myself as a mother of four. Those dreams quickly tore down when we went through secondary infertility and I knew I couldn’t bear to go through it all again. The stress, the hope, the letdown. So I broke up with my womb in a sense. For a year thereafter I endured painful unanswered issues with my womb. A pain I truly believe grew from my disappointment in my own body. I began a new journey of healing. I changed my diet because I knew that had to be a factor and I extended grace to the body that I have been given. I found a gratefulness with my womb for it brought me Lici. No longer do I see it as a broken part of me but rather simply part of who i am.

I was left feeling like I was on the right path but I still had more maternal love to give. The relationship that I’ve built with Ana over the past two years has grown into a beautiful friendship. Ana is our weekly date night sitter and summertime part time nanny, but truly she’s more than that. Our friendship reminds me often of the friendship/mentorship I had and still have with my beautiful friend Jenny. Jenny is an open, loving and faith filled woman who has known me since I was 16. She was a massive support system to me when Brandon and I began dating, at a time when I was discovering who I was and who I wanted to become. I have loved that I’ve been able to pour out the same support that I received into Ana. Watching her personal growth as she prepares to be a wife has been almost as rewarding as watching her relationship with Felicity blossom.

Some of my maternal longing has been deeply filled by welcoming Ana into our family. I use the term maternal as motherly. In the same sense that my sisters who are 8 and 12 years older than I are motherly towards me. In the same way that my old nanny mom Mandy was motherly towards me. Who knew I’d eventually arrive at an age where I could be motherly toward someone younger! Whenever I tell friends about the roll Ana plays in our family they always say, “That’s the dream!”

After taking a few weeks off recently to spend with her fiance during his summer break Ana came over to catch up. When she walked in we all shouted “Ana!!” and greeted her with smiles and hugs. We brought her to the table and had dinner together. We do not take her for granted! She’s blessed our little family immensely.

I could go on about Ana forever of course and it is all to basically explain how we arrived upon the decision to welcome a foreign exchange student. Earlier this summer a friend asked if we’d ever thought about hosting an exchange student, she thought we would make great hosts. “Actually,” I told her, “Brandon and I talked about how fun it would be to host an exchange student about a year ago.” I looked into it briefly last year, reached out to a program and I never heard back. Brandon was excited at the thought of another older girl to bond with Felicity. Because of the joy that Ana has brought to our lives and because of the role model she has become for Felicity we felt like maybe it was a good idea. I mentioned the program to Ana and asked what she thought since she was so much a part of our lives and she was quickly on board.

My friend sent me a contact through her friend who was hosting for the second time. I spoke to a coordinator, asked all sorts of questions about the students and program and finally after Brandon and I discussed everything in length we decided, not entirely on a whim, that this was something we truly desired to do. It seems like a great program and a good time to do it so we said yes! Why not? I know that the bond I’ve formed with Ana has prepared me in a way for our student. The support that Jenny has so openly given to me over the years has filled me up enough to pour out two fold. The culture shock that I experienced in my trip to Europe as a young teenager and the reverse culture shock that I experienced coming home from our recent trip to Puerto Rico I know will provide me with the understanding our student will need during their transition.

Brandon and I filled out our application and read through some student profiles. Ultimately we chose the very first girl we were sent. Zoe from Germany. She shared many of our interests and seemed like she’d fit perfectly into our family. Before our home visit I ran to the store and excitedly picked out some new linens and decor to refresh our guest room into a welcoming space for our new student.

Once everything became official we shared the news with Felicity. She began telling everyone all about her big sister Zoe who was coming to live with us soon. Which left many people confused! Every day Felicity asked when her big sister was coming. We made a paper chain together to give Felicity a visual aid to count down the days until Zoe arrives!

As lovers of travel what better way to experience a different culture than to have someone from a different culture in our home? We’ve been learning a little bit about Germany these past few weeks and preparing our young daughter for this big adjustment. I bought these puzzles to do with Lici since she loves puzzles. It took me a while to find a world map puzzle that actually showed Germany. So many of the kid puzzles I found entirely covered Germany with a giant Eiffel tower over France. We’ve shown Lici where Zoe is coming from on the map, where Puerto Rico is, where our family on the west coast lives and so much more about our world. We’re so excited to share our American culture and my Puerto Rican heritage with Zoe. I know that it will foster a love and appreciation for cultural diversity in Felicity and give her overall a bigger worldview.

We’re honored to have the opportunity to host and support Zoe in this massive brave adventure that she is on. We have emailed and video chatted with her and I dare say few things have ever felt so right as this decision. I asked Brandon to take a photo of Lici and I after our first call with Zoe (pictured above) because I had such a big smile on my face. Our family is not at all what I had pictured or planned but I love what it has become. Brandon, me, our half Puerto Rican daughter, Bingley, Zelda, our lovely Ana, and now for the next year our German host daughter! We are elated to be welcoming Zoe into the US, to a city that we love and into our family ♥


1 Comment on In Exchange

  1. Ana
    August 8, 2022 at 12:22 am (1 year ago)

    Just me here, crying on your sofa while reading this! I am the one who has been blessed by our friendship and this family! So much love 🤍


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