One day, after my husband and I had hosted 4 exchange students, my aunt asked me which one was my favorite kid. I was stumped on how to answer the question and all I could do was to ask her which of her two natural children was her favorite. She just looked at me with the expression of a point well taken. A couple weeks later, I figured out how to answer that question: My favorite foreign son/daughter is whichever one is currently physically with us. Therefore, at the time I am writing this, I can clearly and boldly state that student #7, Nils Bluemke from Germany, is my favorite and THE best exchange student on Earth.
I make this statement based on what he has given up to be here and what he has contributed to our small, dysfunctional, family.
The things he has given up to be here are: two younger sisters that love him very much (we don’t have any kids of our own), climate and atmosphere (there is a BIG difference between Wenzendorf and Cheyenne, especially since the elevation of Cheyenne 6000-6200 feet), sane parents, scouting, cousins that live just a few houses away and are more or less like additional brothers and sisters, certain freedoms and favorite foods, gardening (again, due in large part to climate and elevation), and the ability to be with his friends and girlfriend. He has given these up for ten and a half months without complaint in words, actions, or attitude. We know he misses all of these very much, but he has done quite well at overcoming that feeling.
What he has contributed to our family is absolutely immeasurable. He has been our son in every way practical. Many people have commented that someone who didn’t know that Nils was from Germany would swear that we are a natural family. Not only does he (in many ways) look like us physically, but he acts like us and our interactions are very much typical for a son and parents. His good-night hugs feel very warm and genuine, he is quite playful with us, and (like his host father) he teases me relentlessly. Each of our kids has brought something unique to our family. Nils has brought more laughter than I could have ever imagined (there are valid reasons for why I have nicknamed him Nutty Nils) and, as a budding amateur photographer, literally thousands of photos. He is also incredibly helpful around the house. He mows the yard, does the dishes, and vacuums without complaint, he decorated the house quite beautifully for Christmas, and he has planted some strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry plants as well as some flowering vines along our fence. Not only will we get to enjoy sweet fruit (assuming the birds don’t eat them first), every time we look out the window we will have a visual reminder of what he is leaving behind with us. He has also been my husband’s best buddy and building partner during the rebuild of a small airplane. My husband’s biggest passion is flying and now he’ll be able to feel Nils’ presence every time he goes up. I think that even the cat, whom Nils tortures incessantly, will miss him when he returns to Germany.
At times it seems like my life has become dominated by my volunteer work with YFU and writing this has been very difficult for me for multiple reasons; but if it helps another mother feel for one millisecond what I feel when I think about our Russian, Hungarian, Danish, and Finnish daughters or our two German sons, or helps another student have a successful year, it is well worth it!
– Jennifer Russell, host mom from Cheyenne, WY