Meet “BenGerman” and His Texas Host Family
By Jillian Sims, AYP Compliance and Operations Manager
One thing is clear, this Texas host family has embraced their student Ben from Germany in a big way, and he clearly returns the sentiment. When we asked host parents, David and Saralyn, to share some of their favorite moments, we received a plethora of anecdotes, fun family photos, and stories of international family bonding. At CCI Greenheart, we are so happy to be part of their hosting adventure. Here are just a few of the wonderful memories being created so far:
Why did you family decide to host:
Saralyn: “My family hosted a French teenager for a month one summer when I was the age my own kids are now. It taught me about showing hospitality and opened for me a door to friendship and travel. So as our two kids reached their teenage years, my husband and I considered the idea of hosting. We thought it would be a great way to expose them to a world beyond the one they see day-to-day, while also giving an international student an opportunity to experience American life.”
What moment has made you laugh the most since Ben has arrived?
David: “Ben insisting that they don’t have different size eggs in Germany … and his sister calling him on it.”
Saralyn: Ben is one of only seven exchange students at our high school of over 3,200 students, which I think made him something of a ‘novelty’ to his classmates at first, but I can see that his popularity with them now is genuine. He likes to joke around and is fun to be with, and has been invited to many birthday parties and social events since he’s been here.
Whenever I’m picking him up at school there’s always someone calling out, ‘See ya’, Ben!’ or ‘Hey, BenGerman!’
I think someone on his swim team coined that nickname and he has happily embraced it, even choosing that as the name to have printed on the back of his team warm-up shirt.”
What has been your favorite memory with your “new family” so far?
Saralyn: “Just this weekend we went to a local German Christmas Market and one of the vendors was selling ‘Texas German’ t-shirts. I offered to buy Ben one and after he had his purchase in hand he said, ‘Thank you! This is the best thing ever!’ and gave me a big hug.
I hug him every day, but with teenage boys there’s always that feeling that they’re just humoring Mom, so to see his eyes light up was really special to me.”
What have you learned since you’ve been living with Ben?
David: “German kids in their early teens seem to have a bit more personal freedom, mainly because they don’t have to rely on someone to drive them to all their activities, like we do in American suburbia.”
Saralyn: “If Ben is any example, I would say that European teenagers are more aware of the world outside their own country than American teenagers are. Ben’s arrival has sparked an interest in world events in my own kids, and we now watch the national evening news most days as a family.”
What would you tell someone about hosting–who has never hosted before?
David: “Don’t be anxious of the adjustments. You will be ready when the time comes and you will figure out how to relate to your new student, and also your calendar will be fuller than it was before your student arrived!”
Saralyn: “Deciding to be a host family is a leap of faith, but it can be so wonderful. You get to know this adventurous person and learn about his family and home country, and at the same time you get so see new facets of every member of your own family as they respond to this new stimulus. Just don’t expect it to be smooth sailing right from the start…”
How has Ben’s involvement in the school and community affected you as a host family? Are you seeing your community with new eyes? How have you become more involved because of him?
Saralyn: “When Ben first arrived and his LC was encouraging the kids to get involved in volunteering and even go above and beyond their required hours, Ben was unenthusiastic , to say the least. I would suggest various groups within our church that might be able to use some help and received sort of non-committal responses from him. Then, during the month of September, Ben joined our son in volunteering with three different organizations: purchasing supplies and boxing up care packages for US servicemen and -women overseas for a non-profit organization in our neighborhood, assisting at a track meet hosted by our local middle school, and watching/entertaining kids at a parents’ night out sponsored by our church youth group (with adult supervision, of course!).
A little while after that, I asked him, ‘It seemed like you weren’t really looking forward to volunteering at first. Has it turned out to be not as bad as you thought?’ and he said, ‘Yeah. I mean, isn’t everybody afraid of things they aren’t used to? But actually it’s really fun.’
I was very impressed by that insight from one so young (he’s only 15). I’m so glad he was willing to try something new and was open-minded about it, and that it’s become something he’s eager to do when the opportunities present themselves.”
David: “The main adjustment has been to our calendar, to accommodate the things he is involved in. We have supported and encouraged him in his activities. As a host parent , I was able to ‘walk’ his high-school schedule and meet his teachers, something I would not otherwise have been able to do. Through his activities, we have been introduced to people we might not have met otherwise.”
Finally, how does your family plan to share the holidays with him? How have Thanksgiving and Halloween been?
Saralyn: “Ben will take part in our usual Christmas activities: getting together with David’s family here in town to open gifts, go to worship, and share Christmas Eve dinner. We will have Christmas Day at home and the boys will finish up packing to go on a camp-out (with his Boy Scout troop).”
David: “For Halloween, our entire family attended a CCI student costume party at one of the host families’ home, on the previous weekend. Then on Halloween night, Ben attended another teens-only party hosted by one of the host siblings.
He really got into the Halloween spirit by dressing up both times — as a whoopee cushion.”
Ready to make your own memories as a host family? Click here to learn more!