Hosting an exchange student is like examining an onion in a way--you peel back one layer at a time, and there are many layers. This is just one of them. Many times during training or in support materials from YFU we have heard it stressed that an exchange student is a representative for their country. You can probably imagine how serious this is. In an ideal situation, the exchange program helps the people involved overcome biases against each other. (For example, it is harder to have feelings of animosity towards a country in general once you personally know people who live there). I would say Patrick has been an outstanding representative for Germany and for his family as well. We have developed a love and respect for each of his family members (and a particular fondness for his sisters).
Sometimes Patrick fits so well into our family that it is hard to remember that he's not ours--that he has a rich, full history half-way around the world--and it's difficult to comprehend. Back when he had been here for only a month, I was lamenting that I'm terrible at asking questions and keeping a conversation going (which is VERY important with any teenager). But it has gotten easier with time. The more I get to know him, the more comfortable I feel asking questions, and the more I am able to ask. As I ask questions about his home and family I am able to understand who he is and how he became the person that he is. Through Patrick I feel like I can just nearly touch Germany, and I love it. I realize I am learning about and experiencing a culture in a way that I never could inside a classroom.
One of my favorite "secrets" to tell is, my knowledge of geography in high school was so limited, that somewhere in the back of my mind (trying to understand the separation of East and West Germany and the Berlin Wall), I had decided Germany must be an island. :) It's really logical if you let me tell you about it, LOL. I had it sorted when I got to college, but still distinguishing between Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, etc, was nearly impossible and I still don't think I had any idea what "Great Britain" was supposed to mean. Things that people say like "Italy is the boot" or "Michigan is like a big mitten" went straight over the top of my head, and don't even think about asking me where anything in Africa (except South Africa) is! (We all know that I was using my available brain cells to form elaborate Geometry proofs instead of studying world geography). Once I started homeschooling our kids I was often helping them drill for geography tests and eventually began to learn a few things. My knowledge of history was not really any better, especially more recent history. But having a German living here under my roof has changed things dramatically. Things that were not important to me are suddenly very important. It's easier to remember and more fun to learn about things that you care about, you know.
And we care about Patrick a great deal. I know I'm not speaking only for myself, but for Mitch also (well...not the history/geography part...he's very good at those subjects). Bringing Patrick into our lives has challenged us to be better people, to learn new things, to go outside of our comfort zones. Patrick's family made many sacrifices to send him to America, and it was for his benefit. But we have benefited greatly.
From Webster's 1828 dictionary:
1. To take, clasp or inclose in the arms; to press to the bosom, in token of affection. Paul called to him the disciples and embraced them. Act.20. 2. To seize eagerly; to lay hold on; to receive or take with willingness that which is offered; as, to embrace the christian religion; to embrace the opportunity of doing a favor. 3. To comprehend; to include or take in; as, natural philosophy embraces many sciences.
I know that when our schedules are very busy, we don't want to add "one more thing." There were some things about hosting a student that I didn't look forward to in the beginning. I thought, "oh, that is going to be inconvenient." What I didn't expect was that I would immediately care so much for Patrick that the "attitude of inconvenience" disappeared. We haven't just learned about Patrick's German culture. We have embraced him and it. The more we opened our lives to embrace him, the more blessing we have received. This was an unexpected gift from God and an outpouring of His grace on our family.