I was expecting new experiences by hosting an exchange student. I wasn’t prepared for saying goodbye.
It’s graduation time, high schoolers all over the nation are donning the caps and gowns and preparing to enter the next phase of life. It’s a time of sadness, anxiety, joy, and anticipation. A year ago I didn’t expect that I would be dealing with any of these emotions. I wasn’t planning for a senior year of dances, proms, pranks and yes graduation.
Then Eli happened.
My wife and I made a decision last summer to host a foreign exchange student. We had friends that had done it, and the experiences they talked about made us want to experience it. So we started the process and began looking at applications on whom we might bring into our home.
We have three sons, all under the age of 13. We decided that to experience truly something new we would choose a girl. My wife had always wanted a daughter, and to some extent so did I. After looking through several applications we kept coming back to the seventeen-year-old girl from Ferrara Italy. We had decided, Eli was coming.
She arrived in early August; we set had set up her room, made school arrangements and done all the necessary preparations. With a gaudy hand-painted “Welcome to Arizona” sign we went to the airport. We were ready for this experience and all that it would bring.
Or so we thought.
Almost from the instant she stepped off the plane and into our lives, we knew we had made the right choice. She is driven, well mannered, smart, and beautiful. She is all anyone could ask for in a daughter. The next ten months were going to be a great experience, and they were.
I will admit that there were a lot of things I had to learn when dealing with a teenage girl and what she goes through. It’s so much different that those of young boys. I guess I knew that up front, but the learning curve for me was still large. Luckily my wife was there, and we helped guide each other through it all.
Attachment happened fast; she became our daughter almost immediately. She has wonderful parents in Italy, and we could never even come close to taking their place, and while she has been here, they have also become family to us.
After almost a year of family dinners, school functions, holidays and Sunday afternoon lazy time, our time is coming to a close. As I write this, we are dealing with the fact that Eli graduated last night. The hard truths of that fact hit my wife, and I like a brick last night.
Usually, graduation is viewed as the beginning of a new chapter. For us, it’s the end of one that has been wonderful. The realization that just a few short days from now she will be boarding a plane and heading back to her life in Italy is almost too much to consider.
This graduation just isn’t a daughter graduating from high school, and moving off to college across the country. This graduation is a realization that part of our lives and a piece of our heart is flying halfway around the planet with the fear that we may not see her again. This feeling wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal; we weren’t expecting to get this attached, make it stop!
The emotions that we are dealing with will only compound the day she leaves. Even worse our boys will be devastated as well. My middle son has grown especially close to Eli, and he has the most sensitive heart of the three. It will take him some time to recover. That fact alone makes me sad.
Truthfully, it will take all of us a long time to recover. Most likely we won’t ever really recover we will only keep moving. Life will take over, and routine will return, but nothing will ever be the same.
I know that this is a tough time for Eli as well, she has made close friends at school and fallen in love. She is not only leaving us as a family but the love of her life as well. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that she is feeling right now. She’s assimilated to our culture and grown to enjoy so much about the U.S. that she’s turned into the all-American teenager. Now suddenly that’s going to be uprooted, and she will have to relearn what it means to be Italian.
Her family in Italy have felt pain for ten months, that I understand completely. I am happy that she is going to reunite with those who spent the first seventeen years of her life with her. I know the joy they are going to have when she sets foot on her home soil again. It would be selfish of me to want to deprive them of that.
With all the pain and grief we are feeling today, the end of this chapter, there is no question I would do it all over again. Eli has brought so much laughter and joy into our lives, and she has made us better people for her coming into our home. The experience of learning about her culture, and sharing ours with her, has given me new insight into the world. She has taught us far more than we were able to teach her.
So as we prepare for her departure, we are sad. We know however that we aren’t losing her, you can’t lose something that is in your heart. I am also confident that we will see her again, probably many times.
Will we ever host an exchange student again? I am not sure of that right now. What I am certain of is that if we do, no one will ever replace Eli. They can only take a place next to her. No matter what she will always be our first daughter.
We love you, Eli; we will miss you… so much!
The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up? Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here
Photo: Flickr/Pedro Travassos