We are at the Jumbo Buffet and Grill, sitting in the chaos of the farewell dinner for our two Chinese summer exchange students, Amy and Cherry. Chaotic because after a lengthy talent contest and lengthier speeches, the 40-some students have become restless and are tuning out the podium while tuning into their conversations. The podium doesn’t seem to notice they are drowned out by chatter and my own kids contribute to the noise, imploring me in turn, “I’m bored” and “Please, can we go?”.
We can’t. We were hotly pursued by the coordinator seeking host families for a two week stint. When I said we would be out of town for the first few days she said they would work around it. When I finally agreed to take someone she said, “Great! Can you take four? I really need you to take more.” She pushed aside my protests until I pointed out I didn’t have enough room in the car for my kids and four more. We bargained and finally settled on two, which was probably her aim all along.
That said, Amy and Cherry have been easy to host. They say they like my cooking. They clear their dishes. They are quiet, ask no questions (either not very curious or hesitant to use their English), spend a lot of time on their phones, tell me about the boys in other host families they think are cute. The main downside is they take a really long time in the shower and I missed out on mine two mornings in a row. If you saw me Friday, that’s why my hair looked that way. Their only requests have been food-related (which of course endeared them to me), to eat fried chicken, french fries and hamburgers. And to go shopping for Air Jordans. I didn’t know it would take multiple stores across two counties to get to the right pair (actually, pairs). So its been fine, and the adage “Guests, like fish, stink after three days” doesn’t apply here.
When I broached the idea of hosting, Helen enthusiastically supported being a host family. Mei of course is enthusiastic about everything. I already knew her vote. But Helen doesn’t like change and usually goes out of her way to reject things that have to do with her birth culture or language. But she even volunteered to give up her room. So we took the plunge. It’s been good.
Back at the farewell dinner, everyone perked up when awards were handed out. Categories were things like “most improved English” or “best Chinese representative”. We took note when the last award was announced. “Best Self Management” was basically for the kids who neither excelled at language nor were particularly well-behaved, but who got through the trip without inflicting any major damage. As the names were announced, Amy told us these kids were the most difficult on the trip.
A pack of boys rushed forward to get their award, mugging for the camera, talking and jostling while the presenter spoke, acting out after a long spell of sitting still. Amy, Cherry, the girls and I all laughed, sharing the joke together that there was precious little self management actually going on. But lots of wonderful new relationships being born.