Foreign Exchange, week six in review

We’re halfway done with this adventure hosting a foreign exchange student. She has settled into work and home, and we’re getting used to having her here.

Her English is phenomenal. My Spanish hasn’t improved much because she doesn’t want me to speak Spanish while she’s here. One of the reasons I thought hosting a guest from overseas would be great for our family was that I thought we’d have an in-home language tutor.

Oh, well.

I also thought I’d do a phenomenal job cooking more simply, more creatively, and more enthusiastically while showing someone new how excited we are about food. Nope. Because she dislikes so many of the American flavor profiles (and Mexican and Chinese and Italian and French flavors, too) I’ve also slowed on the efforts to cook new and exciting dishes to woo her taste buds over to our whole-grain, carefully seasoned, locally grown way of life.

But the other night she seemed thrilled with a pasta dish I cooked. Overjoyed, I asked her if she liked it.

“Yes,” she said. “But I bought something to add to it.”

“Great,” I smiled, genuinely excited. “Tell me what it is so I can maybe cook it again for you!”

She pulled the can out of the recycling. Ch*f B@yardi beef ravioli. I tried valiantly not to gag, but failed. She said, “Don’t you eat that?”

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

Well, you asked, lady. I was going to keep my mouth shut. “Because it’s full of chemicals. It’s not food like something that’s grown.”

“I know,” she purred. “That’s why I like it.”

I still can’t imagine how different life must be for her in this country.

And really, how much different life must be for her in this house. The more I see myself reflected in her eyes, the weirder I know I am.

She told me she found a spider in her closet. I shrugged. She told me that she hates them and is scared of them. So I went to her closet and saw the daddy longlegs in a web by her shirts. I took a piece of paper, asked the critter to climb on, and took it outside. I wished it luck finding bugs and reassured it that life outdoors is better.

She almost passed out from my freakishness.

She all but shrieked, “You don’t kill it?”

‘No,” I said, and put the paper back on my desk. She eyed it with horror. As though spider essence had escaped onto its fibers during the arachnid’s short stay.

“Why don’t you kill it?!”

“I don’t kill things.”

This baffled her.

“I don’t eat meat, I don’t kill spiders, I don’t smash bugs.”

She shook her head and gave up. I am a lost cause.

And she seemed quite sheepish when she asked me a week later, after eldest got lice, if I was willing to kill the bugs I found on his head.

“Oh, God yes! I have to kill them or they’ll come back.”

She seemed relieved.

Maybe she’ll forgive me for under-salting, under-sweetening, under-processing food. And for rescuing spiders.

As long as I’m willing to kill lice, I’m okay in her book.

To prove it, later that night she asked for my opinion about how to start a charitable organization when she gets home. She wants to find a shelter-based solution for the many homeless dogs in her neighborhood and we talked about ways to fund that endeavor.

How exciting that she’s settling in her and still thinking about how she’ll get back into life back home.

The beginning of this experience excited me with possibilities. When I realized how outsized my expectations were, I grew quite uncomfortable with this process. And now that we’re all hitting our stride, this long run is feeling pretty good. It’s still work. It’s most likely going to be uncomfortable again soon. But for now, hosting a foreign exchange student is going quite well for us.

Have I convinced any of you readers to consider doing this next summer?