The new applications for next year’s students are starting to flow in, and the current students are starting to look towards the end of their exchange. As a family, we can now see that the time is growing short until we bid Penny “adieu” and look towards the future.
We will definitely not be hosting next year, as I have mentioned. AFS does not recommend hosting two years in a row, and we definitely feel the need for a break. Our exchange year has been an incredible time of growth for our entire family, and all of us will finish out the year changed in many ways. It has been both easier and harder than we could ever have imagined. There have been times I’ve laughed until I cried (yesterday, watching Leah fly down the aisles of the local grocery store, Penny giving chase with a basket of Ritz crackers flying behind her, both of them perilously close to losing their sandals as they laughed and ran through the store, startled customers in their wake) and cried until I’ve laughed (listening to Penny’s constant refrain of “I want to see my friends!” while ignoring the friends she could have had for 7 months has been grating to say the least).
Next year will be a dynamic year for our family, however, as I start to pursue my next master’s degree, Leah gets ready to start the next phase of her life (preschool maybe?), and Mike continues plowing ahead at work! As for Penny, she will return home and start her third senior year of high school (she was in the midst of her senior year in Thailand when she left to come to the US, is doing a senior year here in the US, and then has to go back to Thailand and start her senior year over). She will start applying to colleges. She is taking the TOEFL this weekend and will take an SAT prep class and the SAT’s, as she hopes to come back to the US to go to college. We have kind of mixed feelings about this, given her reluctance/resistance to fully participate in most aspects of American life (read: anything outside our family), but it is her choice and her future, and we are going to let her do the deciding with the help of her family in Thailand (see? I can let go and not be in control! haha)
However, all that being said, we decided that we still want to be involved in AFS. I spoke to the head of our area team a week or two ago and given what she said and what the requirements were, we decided to become an aunt and uncle family. This would allow us to spend time with another student next year without the commitment of hosting and without any paperwork. An aunt and uncle family takes a student on occasional outings, like helping them do Christmas shopping for their host families, maybe a weekend away if the family needs a break, that kind of thing. So we figured that was great and that would be that!
Last night I got a call from Penny’s liaison, April. April interviewed us for hosting Penny and has been involved in a lot of our activities. She is a 2 time previous host mom (Sweden and Thailand), and is hosting again next year (Italy). She got straight to the point: “I need a liaison.”
Being a liaison is more of an official volunteer position. There is a training requirement, as well as requirements for monthly contact with the student and the family both, and some paperwork that has to be turned in so that the State Department knows that we are on top of things. There is the opportunity to go and take the student out for a day or an overnight, and also to intervene if there are problems between a student and their family.
So I have agreed to be a liaison next year. From speaking with one of the host moms whose placement fell through this year, I know that a good liaison can make all the difference in a great year for a family and a student. So I’m excited, and perhaps a bit apprehensive, about taking on this role, but mostly excited! I’m glad I’ll be able to continue to interact with a student this year, maybe learn a little something about Italy, and keep my toes dipped in the AFS pond while we decide if we want to host again the following school year. We’ve definitely been talking about it and thinking about which countries we’d be interested in, and we’ve also been talking about doing foster care as well, so in a year’s time, we will re-evaluate where we stand and where we want to take our family!
You can be a volunteer too! Just go to http://www.afsusa.org/ and click on “Volunteer” to sign up!