Foreign exchange: the waning days

As we come into our last week hosting a foreign exchange student, I find myself wanting more. It’s hard not to be disappointed that the arrangement didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

I wanted to show our guest all the best of our area. But she usually turned down offers to take her with us. So I took my boys to museums and mountains, events and the coast. And Rosí stayed home, watching movies and talking to friends and family on Skype. She slept the weekend sleep of the single and newly adult.

Ah, I remember that sleep. In the month after college and before work started. I would wake from daytime naps terrified that I should be reading something for a class. I still recall the visceral relief at remembering: I didn’t fall asleep by accident while poring over a book. I fell asleep on the couch watching vapid television. Because I could.

Mmmmmmm. Vapid.

Part of Rosí’s reticence to do what I thought would be an ideal cultural exchange is that she values downtime. By values I mean protects and treasures, and by downtime I mean days of doing exactly nothing. She told me that she believes the weekend should be for rest. She cleans and organizes her room late Friday night and genuinely wants to do zero Saturday and Sunday. I think if she could set up an i.v. for caloric needs she would.

I don’t know where you live or what happens there, but the people I know cram their weekends full. Weekdays here are dominated by work, school, and obligations that leave most of us weekday-isolated, solitary, and tasked. So the weekend is our time to see people and go places we can’t normally be. Day trips, gatherings, errands, events; we spend every waking hour on the weekend doing something. Part of that is the reality of having children. People with kids don’t sleep in. And people with two young boys generally can’t just stay home and chill. If we’re not out of the house by 8:00 a.m., there are monumental fights. Because the boys are bored. So we go hiking. Or scootering to a fabulous bakery. Or driving to see friends an hour away.

We’re not scheduled to death, but we’re not staying home, either. We relax by actively seek and find fun. But that’s not relaxing to Rosí.

Our mutual friend once planned a weekend of travel with our Dominican visitor, who said, “Do you do something every weekend?” She seemed exhausted just looking at the list of weekend activities.

We go. We do.

And Rosi just doesn’t want to.

So my sense that the exchange, which is almost over, has been in vain is the result from measuring with my own gauge. If I’d been in another country for three months, I would have spent every waking hour trying something new, talking to locals, reading, and exploring. Her goals are clearly different. Perhaps she’s found the whole summer worthwhile.

Her English is certainly better. She’s had her share of experiences. She has purchased gifts for friends and family. She has gotten her money’s worth out of Skype and her international cell phone plan.

Asking if that is enough is none of my business, really. This isn’t my journey. This is hers.

And shame on me for thinking this should be fun for my family, educational for all of us, and useful in some way. Expecting an experience to be productive is using my lens to evaluate someone else’s situation. And I really have no right to that evaluation, right?

8 thoughts on “Foreign exchange: the waning days

  1. Speaking as someone who was a foreign exchange student, it is simply exhausting to be in a new language all the time. So much so that after a few hours, you feel as if you simply can’t take ANY more words into your brain. Also, just the daily life can be so different, and so exhausting, that I am not much of a “doer” when abroad either. You look at cars in the street, and they’re different. The road signs are different. Food, house setup, TV, all different. So a big cultural outing seems even more overwhelming.
    All that said, I felt a little pouty after hosting students too. You want them to be tuned in to your needs, and surprise! They’re more interested in Skype :)

    • Hey, Heather. I keep trying to remember how much is different. She says it’s more comfortable here because nobody is running pedestrians off the road, everyone behaves politely, and things are calmer. But the weather is different and the signs are different and the food is different and the customs are…
      As I said, I’m trying not to be pouty. Because I would talk in Spanish if she wanted, but she prefers people back home. And I have no right to be disappointed.

  2. Our family could take a lesson from Rosi. And it sounds like your family gleaned insight you never expected. Hopefully, with all the experiences she DID have with your family it was ultimately win-win.

  3. Gotta say, I’m with Rosie. A weekend of doing is exhausting for me and really makes not only the weekend negative but the whole week because I have nothing left. Sometimes is fine, but once a month is pushing it. My husband has been known to go on mini vacations with me where all we do is nothing, but we do it outside of home so I don’t stress about housework! I never thought of this as that abnormal. Interesting.

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