Back in December of last year I accepted a part time job as a local coordinator for an exchange student program called CCI. I thought it would be a good way to make some extra money for our family and would be fun in the meantime. My responsibilities included the following:
- Find and interview 11 volunteer host families for 10 students and one group leader from Spain
- Create a host family directory for the families
- Organize a schedule for the students during their 3 week stay
- Arrange for 12 hours of English class a week (find a teacher and classroom)
- Plan and take students on 6 half day activities and 3 full day theme park excursions
- Organize a Greenheart Service Project
- Arrange transportation for students
- Hold a host family orientation
- Hold a student orientation
- Plan and carry out a welcome and farewell party
- Handle any concerns or problems between host families and students
- Handle any disciplinary problems
- Handle any medical problems
- Be on call 24/7 for 3 weeks
When presented with the responsibilities I didn't think it sounded too bad. Last year my mom and I had helped the local coordinator at the time to find host families and it wasn't too hard, so I expected a similar experience. In January I started looking for host families. I contacted all the families that had hosted in the past couple of years and didn't have a very good response. I started reaching out to everyone I knew from church , my tennis teams and in the community, still not much of a response. I was really surprised at how many people were so closed off to the idea of having an exchange student in their home. I love learning about new cultures and meeting new people. The students were coming for 3 weeks in July and I had a full schedule for them during the week, so the families wouldn't have to entertain them all day every day. But still I couldn't find families. Come March, when I only had 2 families signed up to host I started to panic. That is when my "part time" job became a "full time" job. I started looking at all different avenues for finding families. I posted an ad of Craigslist, I ran an ad in the paper, I tried getting into local schools, churches, local organizations, I posted fliers in gyms like the YMCA, I met with a local magazine editor an had an article run in the magazine, I offered to pay a few of the youth from church if they found any families who would host, I even went door to door. It consumed my every waking hour. With about 4 weeks left till the students arrived I still needed 7 families! It was really panic time. I don't think I have ever been so stressed in my life, there was definitely a lot of praying going on. Somehow in those last three weeks everything came together. Two families from church stepped up and volunteered to host. My friend Maren put me in touch with one of her long time friends who is a realtor, thinking she would have a lot of contacts. Well her friend ended up hosting, as well as one of her neighbors. Someone actually saw my posting on Craigslist and her family ended up hosting, someone I had been asking since January finally decided to host. I got a list of people who had hosted the long term program and one of the families on it wanted to host. It was amazing how everything came together. I was so happy and relieved. Somehow in the middle of finding all these families I arranged the rest of the program and tried to be a mom. I think that was one of the hardest parts was not being able to give my girls the attention that they needed. I could definitely see a difference in their attitudes and they were acting up a lot.
A few days prior to the students arrival I held the host family orientation. It went very well and I was very happy with the group of families I had gathered. Two days before the students arrived the girl who was going to host the group leader backed out of hosting. Panic once again. I actually had a family who called interested in hosting, but the group leader was allergic to cats and the family had a cat. I ended up doubling her up with a student at another host family home and it all worked out fine.
The students arrived on a Tuesday evening and everything was finally together and ready to go. All the families met up at the airport to greet the students. They were excited and nervous to be here. Our student who we chose to host was named Beatriz. She was such a sweetheart. Isabelle had been counting down for her arrival and connected with her right away. Isabelle was quite the trooper allowing Beatriz to have her room for 3 weeks. She loved going in there and showing Bea all of her toys and playing with her.
The day after the students arrived we had the Welcome Party at one of the host families' homes. It was a great way for everyone to get to know each other better and for the host families to start making friendships with other families. We grilled burgers and hot dogs, a true American meal.
Charles and some of the students (Beatriz, Lucia, Alejandra and Carolina)
After the dinner we roasted marshmallows. It was their first time doing that, so a fun new experience.
We had three theme park outings, Universal's Islands of Adventure, Sea World's Aquatica and Disney's Magic Kingdom. First stop was Islands of Adventure. The kids loved all the roller coasters and fortunately the lines weren't long at all so they went on them over and over. Around 4 or 5 it started pouring rain and didn't stop for the rest of the night. Everyone was soaked, but still wanted to stay till close. Even though it was the middle of the summer I couldn't stop shaking from being so cold from the rain. It was pretty miserable. Fortunately we had great weather on the other theme park days. When we went to Aquatica Kenzie and Laila joined us, so that was fun. For our Disney day I brought Isabelle with me. The students all took off and did their own thing and Isabelle and I had a great time just the two of us. It was definitely some much needed mother daughter time.
Harry Potter was by far the best ride I have ever gone on! It was the only one we had to really wait for, but it was pouring rain so we figured we might as well be standing in line. It was pretty incredible and worth the wait.
Coming to Florida the kids of course wanted to see alligators. We went down to the Black Hammock one day after English class. It is right on a big lake that is full of alligators. This is Bea checking out a gator. We only saw a couple baby gators in the the lake.
For the half day activities we went roller skating, to the outlet malls, to Cocoa Beach, to the Science Center, to a movie, and to Wekiva Springs. I think the students enjoyed most of the activities. They mainly just loved all being together.
For our Greenheart Service project we did a river cleanup at Wekiva Springs. We all went out in canoes with a net and garbage bags and picked up any trash we could find. It was a fun way to do service.
Bea and I were in a canoe together. Along the way we spotted one baby alligator.
After the service project we went over to the springs and went swimming. My mom met up with us there with my kiddos.
After 3 weeks of go, go, go we had a Farewell Party at my mom's house. Everyone had a blast swimming in the pool and I catered Macaroni Grill. Yummy! It was great how all the students really became great friends and had such a strong bond. Not only that, but the families all became very close. I couldn't have been happier with the group of families that I ended up with. Everyone was involved and the students all loved their homes.
The last morning- leaving for the airport. The last four days Lucia also stayed with us, her host family had a previously planned family vacation, so we got to have her with us. She was so great to have as well. We just absolutely loved having Beatriz stay with us and having Lucia with us those last few days.
Time for take-off
This was a great experience coordinating the program and hosting a student. I had no idea how much time it would involve when I "signed up" for the job. Nor did I know how completely exhausting it would be to go, go, go for 3 weeks with the students. I'm definitely not a teenager anymore! But it was great. It was such a feeling of relief when the students went through security and I was all done! I think all the students were great and I definitely miss them, but I was ready to be able to breathe again. The day they left we packed up and went on vacation for 2 weeks to the mountains. A great way to unwind and spend some much needed quality family time.