Choose. Practice. Realize. Month Ten.
In Danish the name “Mathilde” traces its root back to German and means “Mighty in Battle.” Mathilde swept into our lives in October as a college exchange student and it sure was a crazy ride for everyone. Week one, Mathilde; week four, Hurricane Sandy.
Having Mathilde come into our lives is one of those occurrences that may not have even happened if we listened to the voices around us. As an adjunct professor at a local college I often see postings for host families needed as students come to study from abroad. For some reason, a posting recently for the same caught my eye…..students from Denmark coming for one month, activities planned for weekends, classes for weekdays. We live less than a mile from the school, have two spare bedrooms our own kids no longer need, and, frankly, we couldn’t think of a good reason not to do it! My husband and I gave it some thought, weighed the “don’t do it” advice of prior hosts, and decided to follow our instinct and jump in. Background check, application, itinerary, and logistics ironed out, and we were all set. This was going to be a perfect “12 in 12” challenge as it certainly was out of my comfort zone and would require daily commitment!
From the day the students arrived and we met Mathilde, we could totally relax and open our home. It was like having a family member come to visit. She understood English very well and what we couldn’t quite discern from each other we used the iPad to Google or pull up photos. We met her family by Skype and she met ours by Facetime before meeting them in person. We opened our world up to her and she opened hers up to ours. I can hardly put into words what a great experience this was for us. Our daughter studied abroad several times and we saw the enrichment this brought to her life on her return. This time we saw that enrichment happen right in front of us and it was remarkable. After the initial jet lag wore off and the schedule kicked in, we were fortunate to have other students to our home, take out to dinner or give a home-cooked meal. They were similar to 18-year-olds in the US in many ways but also dissimilar in many ways. It was fun to have our world open up too as we spent time with them……flexibility, miscommunication, mishaps, lots of laughing and lots of junk food were all good parts of the experience for us all!
As their last week approached, we were all faced with a different challenge coming our way…..Hurricane Sandy. As the hurricane approached and the east coast braced for the storm, the students retreated to the homes of their host families and their families in Denmark braced for news from the US. Our area received strong winds, massive power outages, structural damage, etc., but nothing like those of the states just east of us, who lost homes and lives. The students were not only lucky in that they were not in imminent danger but that they experienced the resourcefulness and resiliency of the American spirit. By the time they flew out Friday, 4 days after the hurricane, they certainly had a great appreciation for Mother Nature, heat, electricity, warm food, hot showers, family, community, and our national spirit.
Mathilde was Skyping with her parents when a 25-foot tree fell down in our backyard, then shared with us the loss of power, a long night of hurricane winds, and news from our family members and friends over the next few days as to their safety and challenges post hurricane. She went outside with us when the storm passed and saw more of our downed trees and home damage, damage to our community, damage to businesses, road closures, school closures, and later helped us open our home to family, friends, and exchange students who were without power for more days than us. Mathilde was officially part of our family and helped us make the best of the situation, as we all counted our blessings. As power, computers, phones, and storm cleanup commenced, we all ended the month knowing that the people in our lives are what is important, that the things in our lives enrich but do not replace our basic needs, and that the ride at Disneyworld “It’s a Small World” is not just a fantasy. […and I know that song will now be stuck in your head]
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