We gained two amazing daughters thanks to Youth For Understanding (YFU)

I’ve written many stories here about our year with our beautiful Thai daughter Napa.

She came to us through the Youth for Understanding (YFU) intercultural exchange program. It was our first time hosting an international student and we had an incredible experience.

That 2018-19 school year was amazing for all four of us with lots of travel, adventures and fun. Our hearts broke when Napa returned home to her family in Thailand in June 2019.

Although we loved our hosting experience and working with YFU, we didn’t plan to host again for several years.

First, because it hurt so badly saying goodbye. Plus, we wanted to be free to travel to Thailand and see our amazing girl – and to finally meet her family and see her beautiful country.

However I remained an active volunteer with YFU and, as part of that role, I learned about a German exchange student who needed an immediate local host family in early March 2020.

Because it was an urgent situation, we gladly stepped up to welcome another student to our home. That’s how we met our wonderful Verena! She too was a perfect fit with our family – she is active, loves animals and gets along so well with Zoe. 

As fate would have it though, just a week after joining our family, V and all other German exchange students were mandated to return to Germany immediately because of the global pandemic. We were all devastated. It only took one week for her to truly become part of our family. Once again, we hated to say goodbye. We felt robbed of our time together.

How did we get so lucky twice with such incredible exchange students? Are all YFU students this amazing, regardless of where in the world they come from?

Now, people ask us all the time if we plan to host again. The answer is hopefully – someday. Covid definitely changed things and is also the reason we haven’t made it to Thailand yet for a visit with Napa and her family.

Plus, for right now, we have Verena back in our lives again and we want to be free to make the most of that connection.

You see, unlike Napa, who ended up going to university in her home country of Thailand, Verena came back to the US for college. Maybe it’s because her exchange year got cut short and she didn’t get her full American experience.

Whatever the reason, we’re thrilled to have V back in the States. She started out playing lacrosse at Longwood University in Virginia, where we loved visiting her over spring break this year and again recently to bring her back up north.

Now, after a wonderful week together in Ohio, Verena is back at school – this time at Central Michigan University which is only 4.5 hours away.

We’re so glad she transferred because it’s exciting to have her even closer to home. We can’t wait to watch V play Division 1 lacrosse for the CMU Chippewas this coming spring. And, we’re looking forward to some fun travels together during her breaks.

When you host an international student through YFU, the staff encourages you to “treat ’em like your own.” We took that motto to heart and have always considered Napa and Verena an extension of our little family. Our relationships with these incredible girls weren’t just for a year – they are for life.

It’s such a pleasure to get more time with V now that she’s in college here. And it’s a great experience to go through college drop-off and visits several years before we have to do it with Zoe. I feel like through our YFU exchange experiences, I’ve gotten much-needed practice at parenting – and letting go of – older kiddos before we go through it with Z.

The letting go part is the hardest, but I know it’s necessary. I’m glad to be able to practice a few more times before our own little bird leaves the nest.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to planning our future trips to Thailand and Germany. It’s high time we visit our international daughters’ home countries and meet their wonderful families in person.

Have you ever hosted an exchange student, or thought about it? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below or over on Facebook or Instagram.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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