As with many of the major decisions my husband and I have made together, we didn’t think on our decision to host an exchange student. It just felt right. It may not be that easy of a decision for other families, but hosting a year-long exchange student didn’t take much discussion for us. In fact, it was a simple text message.
I received email one morning from my boys’ elementary school requesting families to host an exchange student through AFS. With three young kids in the house, adding another kid to the mix wasn’t top on my list, but I thought it might be fun… one day. So I filled out the form for more information. About 30 minutes later I got a call from AFS.
I wasn’t expecting the quick follow up, but when I was told there were kids that really needed a home, I quickly caved. We have an unused guest room and an extra spot at the dinner table. Why not!?!?
“What does your husband think about hosting a student?” the interviewer asked. Quickly, I sent a text to the hubs… “Wanna host an exchange student for the next school year?” He immediately responded, “Sure! Sounds like fun.”
We were given the opportunity to peruse students’ profiles, but Jon and I both agreed – we wanted to host an exchange student from some place we had never been and knew little about. Selfishly, I wanted a girl. We filled out a thorough family application and had an in-home interview.
That’s how Mercy from Kenya became a member of the Harding clan. She arrived in August, a few weeks before school started. During this time, we got used to each other. We took her to the pool where she learned how to swim. My husband taught her how to ride a bike. She was eager to try new foods and learn everything she could about her new home in America.
I’m not saying we haven’t had challenging moments. Being a 16 year old girl isn’t easy. Being 16 away from everything and everyone you know has to be terrifying. But I’m the mom, and I’ve done everything I can to help her along this journey, and it’s been so incredibly rewarding.
After having Mercy in our home for six months now, calling her an exchange student just doesn’t feel adequate. She’s a sister to my boys and will always have a place in our home. She plays UNO with James. She watches romantic comedies on rainy Saturday afternoons with me. She goes on bike rides with my husband and helps with family dinners. She’s the daughter I didn’t know I needed to complete our family.
Mercy goes back to Kenya in June. I’m gonna need some extra hugs from my friends that month, just a heads up. But, it’s what we both signed up for, and I know she has a family in Africa that misses her terribly. Plus, now we have an excuse to cross African Safari off of our bucket list. Kenya in 2020, here we come!
Hosting Mercy this year had such a positive impact on our family, we’ve already signed up to host another student for the 2019-2020 school year. To be honest, our family feels complete with four kids in the house. And knowing we have extended family throughout the world is one of the most incredible feelings…ever.
Want to learn more about AFS, which is the organization we used to find our host student, or have more general questions about hosting? Feel free to reach out by leaving a comment below.