After a month here, my exchange student Jussi, from Finland, asked what I knew about his country before he came. My answer? “Oh, honey. I didn’t even know where you were on the map.”
As a host parent, my assumption was that I would be allowing a student to come and experience America and that the impact for me would be handling another teenager in the house. I was so mistaken. Jussi became a natural part of our home. And while I am certain he has had significant discoveries along the way, I believe my eyes have opened even more-so.
A teenager is a teenager. They eat, sleep, study, eat, hang out, watch TV, eat. As brothers, Jussi and my other sons make each other happy and make each other crazy. They laugh together over youtube videos and argue over chores. It’s music to my ears.
But the tune is international – the kind that brings the world to your door. We enjoy a unique opportunity to learn about different ways of doing food, school, politics, holidays, healthcare, church, fun, and even family.
The day’s political news about Trump tweets or healthcare policy, the upcoming prom plans and school jazz band, the Springtime temperatures, the newest TV show – these all lead to dinner conversations that can be at times deep discussions of discovery.
In contrast to America and my family, Finnish are a people of few words and limited outward emotion until you get to know them. In the harshness of a sunless winter, this tiny country, is stalwart and hearty. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and am quick with a hug. But you have to seek the glint in my son’s eye to catch his thoughts. And yet, like the Aurora Borealis the Finns enjoy, those flashes of color feel all the brighter and more meaningful.
So we are different. And we are the same. We are family, and will be forever.