October 25, 2012

A Parent's Perspective on Exchange

Doug Stroh knows first-hand that the hardest part  of being the parent of an exchange student is that moment when you say goodbye at the airport and watch your baby head to a distant country to  live with a strange family for  10 months.  How does anyone  prepare for that?

“Exchange programs do try to prepare you for that moment with orientations, Q&A sessions, helpful liaisons, and the comfort of knowing that many have done this before you,” says Doug  “But still, you can’t help but wonder – What do they eat over there?  How do they feel about sex, drugs, alcohol, supervision?  Most importantly, WILL MY CHILD BE SAFE?”

The Stroh family had many questions. They worried about their daughter Alexa’s overall safety and wellbeing along with the minute details of her every day.

 “Some  questions get answered ahead of time – some don’t,” explains Doug. “It takes a good degree of trust and sense of adventure to allow this whole thing to happen in the first place.”

“We worried that they eat a lot of fish in Denmark and she doesn’t eat fish, and the host parents lived on a fish farm!  The siblings weren’t always friendly.  School was a bike ride and public transportation away in cold, dark weather.  Bugs were plentiful.  School parties served beer and wine!”

“The trust and independence  fostered through participation in an exchange program has a lasting effect on your child,” says Doug.   “It’s a great thing. They may not come home the exact same as when they left, but what they gain is a sense of openness, confidence, worldliness, maturity and experience that they could never have gotten staying at home.” 

“Our daughter gained so much in her experience that it will always be a part of her life to know and welcome people from other nations.”

“The second time we said goodbye was difficult, but not as bad as the first.  Alexa was headed to Egypt for five months.  We were looking forward to hearing the stories of living someplace so different from here, but sometimes, so alike.  What do they eat?  What are their families like?  We looked forward to the reports.”

The Stroh family had their initial fears and questions like any family who loves their child would. Yet after two trips abroad, Doug concludes with this: 

“Somehow, through the trials and fears, new food and culture, they prevail. Their experience will likely have tough spots, where they want to come home and question the decision in the first place.  But again, they prevail, and everything is fantastic and exciting again.”

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