Here’s a great thing about genuinely loving another person: it always changes you and the world for the better. The very act of opening up your heart starts the shift, and, with time, you find that, somehow, not only has your life improved, but so has the world around you. And when the person to whom you open your heart is a child, and one who is from a different country and culture than your own, there’s an extra bit of magic that occurs. You and the world not only improve, you transform.
My family got a taste of that magic last September, when we decided to host an AFS exchange student for the 2011-12 school year. Shortly thereafter, Non, a sweet, polite and upbeat 17 year old boy from Bangkok, Thailand, was placed in our home. Non fit in seamlessly from the start with my 16-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, and also bonded beautifully with our year-old golden retriever. I knew right away that he was going to be an ‘easy kid’, and a welcome addition to our family. What I didn’t immediately realize was how soon he would move from being a ‘host student’ to being an integral, much-loved family member.
Learn more about hosting an exchange student with AFS
Non asked from the get-go if he could call my husband and me Dad and Mom, and made it clear he was eager to join our family. We treated him as we treat our own kids—chores, boundaries, special snacks in his lunch, playful jokes about his foibles—and soon, we all saw him as just another Zurcher. Or maybe even something more than that. Non brought our family a perspective, perhaps best expressed as a harmony, that none of us, myself included, consciously realized we were missing. Our home has truly been blessed by his presence.
Non’s AFS year enriched not only our family but the entire community. While in our home, he attended Everest Public High School in Redwood City, where, after only 8 months at the school, he won one of the highest awards given to the students: the Student Choice Award. In a school of some 280 students, Non’s peers voted him the Everest Student Choice award winner of 2012. He received more votes than any other student in the entire school as the student whom the other kids most liked, admired and respected. This was truly amazing, and a resounding testament to Non’s character, grace, and kindness. As his mentor and teacher so aptly wrote about him in his award speech, “(Non) sets an example that needs to be followed”.
I could not agree more with the students of Everest. Words are insufficient to express my thanks to his parents, Linda and Chuchate, for sharing their son with our family, and to the AFS Volunteers who placed Non in our home and supported us all throughout his stay. Again, to quote the students and faculty of Everest, we will “never forget his time here, and will miss him dearly”.
Non returned to his family, friends and community in Thailand last Sunday, and left a hole in our family fabric that will take us all a while to adjust to. Where did the time go? My comfort lies in knowing that Non (and his lovely family) will be part/s of our lives always, and that the AFS experience is one that lasts a lifetime. Hosting this young man was more than just a pleasure and a privilege. It was awesome.
With a Perspective, I’m Julie Zurcher
Check out AFS students coming the Twin Cities on our website http://www.afsusa.org/host-family/meet-students/