Sunday, July 24, 2011

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Well, we got a call this afternoon from our area rep that a permanent family was interested in the girl from Finland!  We are very happy for her—as we told the rep, “Better a permanent family than slumming it with us for a 8 weeks!”

So we had our family interview this evening and went through some basic profiles—no identifying information, just kind of what the student wanted the family to know in a paragraph or two.  It came down to two different girls, one from Hong Kong and one from Iceland.  Our rep was pulling for the girl from Iceland, but Mike was pulling for the girl from Hong Kong.  In the end we went with Iceland.  What tipped the scales?  I’m not sure, really, but I think it was mostly when I said what I didn’t want and that I kind of wanted a break from Asian cultures, that tipped things in favor of the girl from Iceland, who sounds pretty good. 

Now, should she find herself a family, our next choice will be the girl from Hong Kong.  Having gone through an adoption experience with our daughter, I really do believe that we wind up with the children we’re supposed to have, so it does not bother me one bit to have “lost out” on the opportunity to host the Finnish girl—she’s going where she’s supposed to be.

A few things we found out tonight:  AFS is still looking for homes for something like 900 kids who want to come to the US.  Because we were late to the game, we will not have our kid arrive till the end of August.  This makes me pretty happy, actually, since we had 3 weeks of sitting around with Penny and it was a loooooooooooooooooooong three weeks!  This young lady, or the next young lady, or the one after that, will only have to hang out for a week or so before heading off to school.  She can get acclimated to the house and the town, get her school supplies in order, and then head off to her great high school adventure.

So that’s where things stand at the moment:  Iceland.  We’ll see what happens in a week, maybe it’ll change again!  I find it very exciting, really, to kind of play country roulette.  It’d be pretty awesome if we went through all the kids coming to Virginia and they all found homes, and then we wound up working our way through some of the other kids.  Meanwhile, I’ve updated the blog title and links to reflect our country du jour.  Check back often, you never know what the next news will be.

And hooray for finding permanent families!  C’mon, you know you wanna!  Sign Up Today!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You Again?

Hello!  Remember us?  The people who were taking a year off?  Yup, well, we’re still planning on taking time off, but we’re hosting again temporarily, providing our local school grants permission.  Here’s the scoop.

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the Hosting with AFS USA Facebook page and saw a plea from a woman whose daughter was accepted and scheduled to come to the US, but who had not yet been matched with a family.  I sent a quickie message to one of the admins for the page and said that in a pinch, we would accept that student as a welcome family.

What is a welcome family?  A welcome family is a family that agrees to temporarily host a student who has not been permanently matched yet with a host family for their exchange year.  As the AFS USA website says, “While the situation is temporary, welcome families give the student a great start by letting him or her settle into the community, begin school, and get acclimated to American ways of life. Becoming a welcome family is also a good option if your family has other obligations during the year. Some welcome families and students find that they grow attached to one another and indicate they want to stay together for the whole year.”

Well, anyway, I heard back from the admin and she told me that this particular student already had a temporary placement they were working on, but if Mike and I were interested in being a welcome family, they could sure use the help and to please contact the Virginia area team.

I talked to Mike a little bit more in depth about it and he agreed that we could pursue it, so I contacted our area team and within hours (probably within minutes) there was a message on the voicemail that the area team was having trouble placing a girl from Finland who has some allergy issues to pets (most homes have pets these days, but with the demise of our rabbit, we are one of few they know of who are pet free).  Well, I didn’t exactly have Finland in mind, so I asked what other countries were available, and we were sent a list with basic profiles of the 14 students who still need homes in Virginia.  I read through them eagerly and selected a girl from Hungary as the one I thought would be a good fit.

The next morning, I emailed the profiles to Mike and told him nothing about what the area coordinator wanted or which student I thought would be good.  He read through them and emailed me back, “The Finnish girl sounds good.”  I was outnumbered 2-1, so I emailed our area coordinator back and said we’d accept the Finnish girl.  Her interests include music, reading (I told the coordinator that READING had to be an interest of anyone we take), photography, cooking and baking, and socializing.  She’s a bit outdoorsy, but I’m figuring I can lean on my buddy Melissa to do some day trips out to the Shenandoahs and we can find other things to do outdoors like Geocaching and whatnot that might meet her interests.  She is described as the most energetic and loud member of her family, and very spontaneous, honest, open-minded, and honest, all good traits.

The only hurdle to jump is that Virginia schools do not typically accept welcome students.  AFS USA and our area team have been in contact with the local high school to make sure that they are open to AFS placing a student in the school who may only be there for a few weeks until a permanent family may be located.  Unfortunately, the principal who makes the decisions is out of town until Tuesday.  Doubly unfortunately, I am leaving Tuesday morning for 10 days in Tucson.  Triply unfortunately is if we don’t act fast, this poor girl, whoever she is, will have her departure delayed until the end of August. 

Consequently, it has been a mad dash.  Although we hosted last year, we still have to undergo the entire process again of background checks and interviews.  We filled out our host family application Friday and will have our interview tomorrow.  Tuesday we find out about the school and then we should know if she will be able to come or not.  I’ve got a funny feeling it will be OK—Stafford has a good commitment to exchange students and the guidance department didn’t outright say “NO!” so hopefully it will be fine.

Why do we only want to be a welcome family?  Several reasons really.

  1. We cannot commit to hosting a full year again, and we really don’t want to.  I’m flying to Tucson on Tuesday to begin an intensive 10 day class that will kick off my new master’s degree program.  This fall, I will be taking two classes.  Twice this past week, someone’s told me, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”  Until I know how our lives will be affected by my schooling, it’s unfair to the family or to a student to commit to something and then have to back out. 
  2. Additionally, while we had a great year last year with our last student, about whom you can read at our hosting blog Family Thais, it was also quite a stressful experience at times.  We need time to relax and unwind from that experience in the long term before doing another year.  It would be unfair if, so fresh off that experience, we had another student and immediately began comparing this girl to that girl.  AFS and AFS Virginia don’t recommend two years hosting back to back, and we tend to agree with that philosophy, so that’s that.  Of course people are already saying, “You might love her so much, you decide to keep her” and I suppose that’s true, but Mike just wandered in and said, “I hope they know we don’t plan to keep her.”  Haha!
  3. We really, really believe in the mission of AFS and we really, really want to help other kids have an AFS experience.  We loved having a teenager in our home—Penny brought a lot of life to the house and we got to know much more about the community, even with the limited involvement we had with the school.  We loved learning the parts of her culture she wanted to share.  We loved showing her the US.  I never expected to, but I LOVED the challenge of working with someone with very limited English.  Even though it’s only for a while, we can help this girl get into the US and help her have a very positive beginning until she winds up where she is supposed to be.  It’s exciting to think that her initial impressions of the US and Americans can be formed by her experience with us.
  4. Regardless of the length of the experience, you can develop a relationship for life.  Last night, I was testing out Skype on my laptop, and my “brother” from Ecuador (those of you who are new to my blogs won’t know that my family hosted 4 exchange students when I was younger.  Three girls from Japan, Germany, and Sweden, and an “oops” placement of a boy from Ecuador!) and he was saying how jealous he was getting looking at all the pictures of us with Penny and the scrapbook I had made for her and everything else.  Of course I re-assured him that he is still my favorite AFSer (No dummy, I, I also assure Penny of this regularly!), and although it has been the better part of 20 years since we hosted Francisco, we are still close and we are still family.  Whether our Finnish friend is here a day, a week, or two months until her family can be found, hopefully it’s a rich and fulfilling relationship that we develop that won’t end when our hosting ends.

So there you go.  I will blog about being a welcome family as much as I can, once I know we are a welcome family.  In the meantime, I’ve been so lucky to speak with so many excited host families who are awaiting their kids’ arrivals in just weeks, and their excitement is contagious. 

If we don’t get to be a welcome family, well, we tried!  I’ll still be a liaison and we’ll keep active regardless.  Thanks for reading and I’ll post an update as soon as we know something! I almost feel as if we should have a pool--let's take bets and start a scholarship fund with the proceeds? Haha