Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Hosting Marysia: A year hosting an international exchange student

I get asked a lot about having an international exchange student. What’s it like, how did you decide to do it, what have you learned – and most recently – are you going to be ok or really sad when she leaves? Well, it will be an adjustment and a big change for me. I’ll really miss my Polish daughter Marysia.

This is the second time I hosted an exchange student – my first time was hosting my other Polish daughter, Ola. For me, it’s a good use of my talents and gifts - I like to host people and have gatherings at my house, I enjoy traveling, I like to learn about other countries and cultures, I have worked with youth for many years, and I also like to show people around Minnesota and all its beautiful nature and charming towns. I really enjoyed hosting both years and hope to do so again in the future.

My thoughts
I wanted Marysia to experience America and some of the highlights, as well as provide a home for her here in the U.S. As her American mom, I aimed to support her and listen to her; to help her through any questions she had about school; answer questions about culture, language and grammar; and to be there for her. I learned about her and her interests, her favorite foods and the foods she didn’t like, about her friends and family, and about her past adventures. I filled her in on my past travels too. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to get to know Marysia and be her host mom this year, as I think back on many of those conversations.
Our adventures in Rochester and beyond
We have had many adventures and memorable moments this year. I know a lot of friends and family have followed our year of adventures on social media – I wanted to share a bit about life hosting an exchange student. We went up north and to a friend’s lake place. Marysia got to go tubing and kayaking.

Within the first couple weeks, Marysia loved Caribou Coffee and Noodles, knew her way around Target, often shopped for groceries with me at Hy-Vee, and had picked up some American phrases.

Marysia’s life in Rochester and attending American high school
She already knew English so well, but she perfected her English even more as the year went on. She could understand my fast-speaking Minnesotan accent most of the time, and learned “Uff-dah” and other “important” phrases we use.
And then she experienced American high school. Marysia came home over the first week or two and would tell me how loud it was in the hallways, how there were so many students, and how different it was from her Polish school. She met friends within her first week in Rochester, and she stayed busy with going to sleepovers, football games, dances and coffee with friends. She started enjoying her classes, especially graphic design. And she met even more friends as time went on.

After a while she got settled in, she decorated her room, made friends with my two dogs and cat, got to know my neighbors, made dinners with me, and had the city bus route all figured out to take the bus to school and the gym. I think my home was starting to feel like home to her at last – her American home.

Traveling around
Since she loved to travel and explore, like me, we made plans to travel to a couple other states and many cities. We visited southern California’s beaches and the Texas plains. We drove along the Great River Road in Wisconsin. We explored the waterfalls on the North Shore in Minnesota. We went to plays and events in the Cities, walked on Grand Avenue, went to a Twins game at Target Field, strolled through Rice Park in St. Paul, and walked along the Lake of the Isles.

Wintertime in Minnesota
And in the winter, we played in the snow. We went sledding, skating and made a snowman. We visited the Ice Castles and the Luminary Loppet. 

But often on weeknights, you’d find us in the living room, sometimes with hot chocolate and popcorn, and a blanket for each of us at our usual spots- one of us on each couch, with two dogs and a cat nearby, watching TV. But not just watching TV- usually we were watching "The Gilmore Girls!" We nearly finished watching the entire series over the winter and spring. We had many conversations about Lorelai and Luke and Rory and if she’d end up with Jess or Logan. And I talked Marysia into watching some of my favorite movies – "Anne of Green Gables" (it’s a classic!), "While You Were Sleeping," "It’s a Wonderful Life" at Christmastime, and more.

We also had some great conversations. We talked about deeper issues like God, my beliefs and the reason behind some traditions in the U.S. I learned about Polish politics and history from her. But then we also talked about cute boys and crushes- because even at my age, I still have those crushes!

I had a big birthday in December (turning 40!). Marysia woke me up with a muffin a candle for me to blow out, and once I came in the kitchen I found it decorated with streamers and ribbons and balloons. It was so thoughtful of her. It was a great birthday because she put so much thought and time into decorating and helping me host a party.
Marysia was wonderful to host!
Marysia met some of my family and my friends from book group, church, work and others in town – and she met some of my old friends from college too. She got to know my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew – and they all loved spending time with her. Everyone thought she was wonderful and friendly – which is true, of course!

I’ll miss her. I’ve really enjoyed my time with her this year and I look forward to hearing updates about school, her friends and family, her travels and more. I’ll treasure the year I spent with Marysia and will keep her in my thoughts and prayers as she continues on to her next adventures in life. And even though she isn’t my real daughter, I’ll always consider her my Polish  daughter.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ireland and Claddagh Rings: My First Visit to Ireland

I first bought my Claddagh ring in a shop in an old building along the narrow, ancient streets of Galway, Ireland, several years ago during a semester I studied abroad in England, Ireland and France with a group of students from my college.

I found the Irish history and culture captivating and the countryside beautiful and green, dotted with stone fences and sheep, with charming villages. And I learned about the interesting history and culture in Ireland. I’d wished I was Irish – and years later, I found out I had some Irish ancestors!

During my first visit to Ireland, we visited the Book of Kells (an intricate, illustrated book of the four gospels of the Bible thought to be from the 384 AD or so) at Trinity College Dublin, saw the amazing Long Room in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, biked around the Aran Islands, experienced St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, heard Irish music and visited the Cliffs of Moher. And we also learned about Irish authors during a semester abroad focused mainly on British and Irish literature and travel writing. 

In our free time during our visit to Galway, I browsed the shops, and I was drawn to the Celtic jewelry. I learned many of the Celtic symbols and symbols in jewelry had unique meanings.

I bought a Claddagh ring and other Celtic jewelry on that first visit to Ireland. The Claddagh ring is said to have originated in the Galway region. Many years ago, it was considered an engagement ring in Ireland. I’m not sure if it’s still used for that much now – but I bought it for myself because I liked the ring and its symbolism.

The meanings of the ring’s symbols include:

  • The heart (for love)
  • The crown (for loyalty)
  • The hands brought together to the center (for friendship)