Today I said farewell to Alex, our latest foreign student who is returning to Latvia and then on to Hungary where he will enter business school in the fall. Our house seems empty. We are missing Alex already!
Alex is one of over 25 foreign students my family and I have hosted over the years. My husband and I started hosting students long before we had children of our own. In fact, just last summer, we sent our then 16 year old son, Mathias, to Spain to visit Jose, our first homestay student who came to us in 1991 when he was just 16. Today Jose is married with children yet he still has his boyish grin and still plays as hard as he works. I was envious of the stories Mathias told us of Jose, a real-estate developer, using his siesta time to go kite sailing off the Costa del Sol!
We’ve hosted students from Spain, France, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Serbia, Croatia, Russia, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, China and at least a half dozen students from Japan. Many of our students came to us through the English as a Second Language school I ran in the University District for 17 years.
This time with Alex from Latvia was different. Alex is closer in age to our kids than any previous student. He also attended Northwest Yeshiva High School, the same school our older son attends.
Alex is also the first Jewish student we’ve hosted. Instead of teaching Alex about Shabbat, challah, Passover or anything else Jewish as we had done with previous students, we compared our different traditions, food and customs. Alex fit right into our Jewish rhythm!
The fact that Alex is from Latvia was unique too. My paternal grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Latvia nearly 100 years ago. My dad continuously peppered Alex with questions about Riga and the Jewish community there every time we got together. At Alex’s graduation from Northwest Yeshiva High School this week, my dad and stepmom attended and took video and photos when Alex received his diploma. Alex’s American grandparents, as we call them, felt pride in Alex’s achievements and in knowing that the Latvian Jewish community is alive and well.
Hosting a foreign student was an additional responsibility, of course. We opened up our home and our hearts to someone new. Alex quickly became a member of our family. We cared for Alex and invested in his safety, success and happiness. We made accommodations and compromises to make space for Alex. We gave up a bit of privacy and some free time. But our gain was immeasurable! We gained a window into Alex’s world. Our sons gained a new friend and a lasting bond. Our sons learned that it is important for our family to give of ourselves. We wouldn’t miss this opportunity.
This year NYHS will again be welcoming foreign and out-of-state students. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a host family, please contact me.
Veteran Host Mother
Director of Advancement at Northwest Yeshiva High School