Exchange Student’s Family Opens Their Doors to American Hosts
Guest blog by Mindy O’Bannon, Host Mom in Houston
The thing about taking a long-awaited trip abroad to experience another culture and all the history that comes with it is you can’t really process it all until you get back home to the mundane, as if everything you did was somehow a dream. You intentionally try to be present in the moment, but it still manages to escape your grasp.
While hosting Jessie on exchange from Madrid, Spain, over the last year, her wonderful family graciously invited us to come spend nearly two weeks in their home during the summer. Words cannot adequately express how thankful we are for the opportunity that was given to us. Jessie, her accomplished brother, and her generous parents served as our tour guides through the breathtaking sights and sounds of Madrid, Segovia, Barcelona, and Toledo. We tasted new foods (hello, baby eels and jamón serrano!), saw magnificent architecture, enjoyed world-renowned art, strolled medieval streets, experienced the rhythm of life on Spanish time (sleeping in late, lunch at 3, dinner at 11, to bed around 1 a.m.—because it’s still light after 10!), and lingered over café con leches on the patio.
Our two children, ages 9 and 14, saw history leap off the pages of their textbooks and marveled at structures that date back to biblical times—an education that has hopefully opened their eyes to a bigger world full of beautiful people.
Sure, we could have stayed in a hotel, but lodging with Jessie and her family blessed us with an authentic, engaging experience. Besides going on an exciting vacation, our family was able to better appreciate what Jessie went through while she was with us. It’s not always easy being a house guest, eating different food and being immersed in a foreign language far from the familiar, but the lessons learned are invaluable and more than worth it. What a true cultural exchange—one that has forever enriched our lives and further extended our bonds to a family in Spain we have grown to love dearly.
Since Jessie went back home and we’ve had time to settle into our normal routine following our trip to visit her, we’ve realized starting the new school year will look a little different for our family. There will be one less person in carpool, fewer runs to the shopping mall, and no more trips to basketball practice.
But that hole will be filled with many wonderful memories of helping a student enjoy the experience of a lifetime.
When friends ask us whether we would do it all over again, I answer with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and encourage them to do the same. But my recommendation also comes with a warning: Chances are extremely high that when you let a foreign-exchange student into your home, they’ll steal away with a piece of your heart.