Growing Up

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Editor’s Note: Welcome to a special series from the Sutterlin Family. This month, the family continues the account of their experience hosting a German high school exchange student. Enjoy! From Sophie Eight months have passed since I came to the United States, and a lot has changed. I came here as an insecure teenager, constantly observing others and trying to figure out how to act, but I never considered that I may not be the only one who is different. Coming to a country full of diversity helped me to accept that everybody is different and has their own ideas, truths and goals. As a teenager, I have faced the pressure of a society-given timeline for growing up. Here, I was confronted with many totally different perceptions about life and love, which made me realize that every one of these perceptions is ok. Whatever feels right to me is the right way for me to live, and my friends will accept that as I will accept their ways of living. I learned that everybody has to decide for themselves what matters to them. I went from trying to make everybody else happy to learning how to make myself happy without constantly making sure that everybody else approves. These past months helped me grow in so many ways. I am confident enough now to handle conflicts by directly approaching them instead of letting the problem grow bigger by being silent. I gained confidence and independence. My host family can help me with problems, but I also have two siblings that they need to take care of, so I learned how to manage my after school activities, homework and my budget. In Germany, I was very close to my mom. It was easy for me to be passive-aggressive to my friends because I had someone at home to talk to about my frustrations with who would mostly agree and have suggestions for what I could do. Here, I had to find people to talk to outside of my family, and I had to learn different ways to handle problems. Because of that, I also learned how to open up to people. I have a feeling that I will be a lot more honest about my feelings to my best friends after this because I have learned that talking about my personal troubles and feelings isn’t that hard and embarrassing after all. We are all just trying to do the right thing. Going on an exchange year has been the best decision I’ve ever made. From the Sutterlins It’s hard to know what to generalize about parenting an exchange student versus what is unique to Sophie and her experiences in America. I intentionally refer to this as “parenting” rather than “hosting.” We went into this with the expectation that this person would be a child in our family, not merely a guest in our home; which has proved easier to expect than to live. When a new person enters the home, the family tends to be very patient, interested even, in the differences from our own patterns of living. As time passes, understanding can turn into irritability about differences on both sides. We thought that we would be culturally enriched and perhaps change some habits. Although we are often in a state of reflection about our American lifestyle, for all of the good and bad parts, we have yet to change much about our lives. If you live as a guest and a host, the relationship can be strained when change doesn’t occur through compromise. But when you go into it as parent and child, there’s a different resolve that love will prevail even if communication or lifestyles remain foreign. This is the natural tension between parents and adolescents. Through this love and tension, our role as parents has been enriched. By including Sophie into our brood, we’ve been forced to clarify and explain our intent, and sometimes our behavior as parents. There has also been the unique reward of seeing what appears to be the whole adolescent cycle play out in just eight months. Sophie arrived as a shy 17 year old kid. Without a network of friends, it was very reminiscent of having a toddler all to ourselves! She was our new family member and we were so proud to introduce her to the world. Soon enough, she started making friends at school and, as a family, we experienced the all-too-familiar release of sending our young one out into the world. As our own kids have come up through different schools and communities, friends have changed and their personalities have grown; it was the same with Sophie. We watched her realize things she appreciated in different groups of friends and she moved on from one circle to the next, refining her likes and dislikes. It has been hard to know if other students immersed into a culture go through a whole new growing up process, but for us it’s been wonderful to watch Sophie mature all over again in her new world.
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Tags: Germany, growing, Ovserving, pressure, teenager, up