Editor’s note: Kalina is a former AYP student from Poland who lived with a host family in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last year. She wanted to offer some advice to students based on her experiences during her exchange year. This is the second in a series of three posts Kalina wrote for us. Read her first one here. Kalina also has her own blog, so check it out here!
By Kalina from Poland
You usually meet your American family first when they pick you up from the airport. That is a moment you probably waited for the most, with indescribable excitement and maybe a little, teeny-tiny bit of stress. Don’t worry, you are fine! It is natural to be extremely curious. I remember how I wondered what my American family would be like and whether they were going to like me. You should not be feeling any stress though, because your host family is just as excited to share this experience together as you are.
What is so cool about exchanges in America is that every single one of you is going to have a different experience. You might have younger or older host siblings, you might have host siblings who are your age, or you might live with only two host parents. I was lucky to live with two host sisters who were around my age, Mackenzie and Hailey, as well as the coolest host mom and dad ever.
The truth is, your exchange year is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a second, loving family. It is all up to you and the effort you put into the relationships with them! So put your best effort into building a good relationship with your family. Show them how much you appreciate them, help them with daily chores, and just be their company! A single gesture will mean a lot.
My relationship with my host parents was great. I truly love them. I was especially really close to my host mom. We shared so many moments and enjoyed each other’s company very much. I would go shopping with her, have coffee, walk the dog, run hills (!) together, cook together, etc. I could tell her everything, and all my other foreign friends were jealous of how cool and chill she was. My host sisters were also great, and we shared so many fun times. Of course, we had our ups and downs (arguments are hard to avoid when three girls live under the same roof). However, at the end of the day, we had a strong bond. It was such an interesting experience for me, since I’m an only child back home. Now I have two American sisters! How cool is that?
Also, take the chance to meet other members of the family, not only your immediate American family, but the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., as well! My host father’s brother lived just next door with his wife and son. The families were very close and would meet up often. I just loved them. They were all very sincere, friendly people and spending time with them was such a delight.
My advice is to be yourself, do not be afraid to be different, show them your true colors, and share your culture. For this experience to be beneficial for both sides, you’re going to have to be flexible and try new things, even if you’re a little discouraged at the beginning. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it? For instance, last spring break my host family took me to Disneyworld in Florida, and they are all big roller coaster fans, while me, not so much. They encouraged me to try and I ended up liking it a lot! Another time, we went up to northern Wisconsin for a weekend, and I tried water skiing for the first time. Guess what? I loved it! In other words: challenge yourself!