From The Sutterlins
At some point in most people’s lives, a relationship or experience so profoundly touches a person that they are changed. It could be a church retreat, a first love, a semester in college, a teacher who inspired us to truly assess who we are or the life we want to pursue. Sophie’s year in America was certainly this event for us. Alongside her, our family anticipated and planned for new friends, plays, choir competitions, Spring Break, prom and all of the excitement that comes with high school graduation. Throughout it all, Sophie had ample time to reflect on the experiences as they unfolded so many miles from her homeland and family. This was genuinely her walkabout, a time in the wilderness to explore herself, her beliefs and her understanding that this is her world, regardless of where she lays her head at night. And we had front row seats for this girl’s self-discovery.
This time last year, we had only just decided to host an exchange student. Now we are preparing ourselves for a child, who has become our own, to disappear back into the mysteries of another hemisphere. Our year of watching this growing, learning and reflecting, was more than just a preview into our biological kids’ next few years, but it was an awakening for our family’s capacity to love. The year was a lesson for our kids in patience and sharing, a test of our marriage for coordinating and compromising and a flashback for ourselves of how many dimensions there are to a person’s coming of age.
A wise man once told us that there’s a time when a parent shifts from being a coach to being a cheerleader. For us, with Sophie, that time is now and it explains the pain and joy we feel as we prepare for her departure. During a recent car ride, Sophie said she was tired of reflecting and felt it all meant she needed to change things when she went home. My advice to Sophie was that change had already happened throughout this year. No person or thing can be changed upon returning, but to recognize that through this experience her lens on life has changed. I also assured her that whatever happens in her next season, she has family in Michigan cheering for her.
I wasn’t really sure what to write about in my last article, but I decided to dedicate this to my host family. No matter where I go, I always refer to them as my parents or siblings, which confuses many people. Maybe at first it just made it easier to get close to them, but these last months and especially the last few days, I understand how much more it means now. It is not hard anymore to say “Mom” or “Dad” because there is no better description for the way I feel about them.
My local coordinator from my exchange organization calls me every month to see if everything is all right. Last week she asked me what the highlight of my year was. First, I thought of many things like the play, choir or the musical, but I became aware that it was the love I experienced that astonished me most. Realizing that I can have a second family that feels like my own was the highlight of this year.
Feeling that someone could love me this much after only knowing me for less than a year is remarkable. I heard my dad talking to the local coordinator and he didn’t talk about me like you would talk about an exchange student; he talked about me as if I was one of his kids. The night after graduation my host mom hugged me and then I saw tears in her eyes. I just can’t understand how they could love me so much that it hurts to let me go like it would hurt to let your own child leave. I just can’t let myself feel that just yet. I know it will break me to pieces to think about not being a part of this family anymore and not having them give me love before going to bed every night.
And now I regret writing this because it made me think about what I didn’t want to think about. How can I leave knowing I won’t have any more long talks with my dad in the car, or getting sweet unexpected text messages from my mom every now and then, or being able to hold Brogan’s little hand knowing that his love is as pure and real as love can be? How can I leave a sister who is so much like me that it sometimes hurts? The truth is, the day will come and I will say goodbye, but I will never forget the gift of unconditional love they gave me. Despite all the tears that will fall, this will be a happy ending because I know this love is never-ending.
If you would like to experience a life changing year for your family and for a youth from another country, please contact the local coordinator, you won’t regret that you did!
Amy Smitter, Local Coordinator
(517) 231-7981 email@example.com
Office: (269) 459-8883 Fax: (269) 459-8887
950 Trade Centre Way, Suite 303 Portage, MI 49002