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Evolving view of travel: hosting a foreign exchange student

Globe The year I was 20, I spent a year as an exchange student in the south of France studying at a French university along with just about every other college-age American girl alive at the time. It was a wonderful year in many ways. Starting with text-book French, I became fluent. I gained an appreciation for wines instead of America's cheapest beers. I met some life-long friends. I learned how different the French were from Americans, and also how very much the same. I used my home-base in France and the generous holiday schedule of that country to travel to neighboring countries and pick up a smattering of phrases in a few other languages. I experienced home-sickness like I never knew before, but also really got to know myself and grow in ways I probably wouldn't have had I never left home. I remember scheming with my American roomie -- how we would one day return to Europe. We'd bring some kind of never-before-tried business and get working visas, we'd start a band (fat chance on that one, since neither of us sang, wrote music or played instruments), we'd marry foreigners... The possibilities were endless. Someday, we'd return!

Funny how it never really turns out that way. I did marry a foreign-born man, but have never visited his homeland. My husband and I did manage to travel abroad (including a bike trip in the south of France for our honeymoon) in the years before parenthood totally changed our lives. Now my idea of travel has changed. Oh, I suppose some day, I might want to travel abroad with the kids. Now, just thinking about it makes me tired. Jet lag, explaining cultural differences, translating. For the most part, I've become an armchair traveler. Reading about far off lands and dreaming about exotic places (but in my dreams I'm 20 again, and the kids are nowhere to be seen...). Having become so much more 'green' I also now have hangups about air travel. All that jet fuel! Perhaps if there were a solar-powered plane? And I've never quite bought into the concept of purchasing carbon offsets.

In any case, this summer we're trying something new. If all goes well, we will be hosting a foreign exchange student from either Korea or Japan for a few weeks during the summer. We toyed with the idea last summer, but had a rather chaotic schedule and just didn't think we could manage it. A friend from our NWEI course hosted a Japanese student last summer, and she said her family (with two young children) and the student really enjoyed the experience. I'm reminded of the words of Bill McKibben when I heard him speak several years ago: Think globally. Act Neighborly. There's perhaps no better way to do that than via hosting a foreign exchange student. I love that my kids will learn about a far away country, but that we won't have to deal with any jetlag.


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