Lately, I’ve been surprised to find myself feeling like Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies. Not because I’ve been visited by cyborgs from the future (still waiting on that front)…but because I have a looming sense that social crisis is coming, and I need to prepare my daughters to survive – and even help lead the resistance.  

But while Sarah taught her son John skills such as computer hacking, lock picking, weaponry, and carjacking, I believe my daughters will need a different skillset.

Compassion. Kindness. Forgiveness. Patience. Self-denial. Logic. Careful reasoning. Sense of call and purpose. Ability to see different viewpoints.

Love. Faith. Hope. Especially love.

It’s not easy to figure out how to teach these things to teenagers. Possibly the best way I’ve found so far, is hosting exchange students. For an entire school year, all of us, as a family and individually, practice letting someone we never knew before have a significant impact on our lives. We have to arrange furniture, schedules, food, and bathroom privileges to accommodate a stranger. We make room in our cozy (read “tiny”) house for a fifth person, her belongings, her attitudes, her conversation, her clutter, her opinions, her habits, her holidays, her flag, the sound of her language. We say the names of her natural family, find her home city on a map, learn things about her country that we never thought to ask. We discover our similarities, as well as our differences. We discover that some of those differences matter more than others. We live together anyway.

Is it easy? Nope. Is it easy for her? I doubt it. While we are learning to live with her, she is having to learn to live within our family, according to our rules (which may be quite different from what she’s accustomed to), eating our food (no matter whether it resembles anything familiar to her), communicating in our language (with all of its subtleties and subtexts), and all this while attending an unfamiliar school and missing her family and friends back home.

arrival day

Why go through all of this? It’s not just for a travel opportunity, to see the sights of another country. That can be done (and done better) in a tourist visit. But what happens is that we become family to each other. And that transforms all of us.

Our Moldovan daughter wrote this letter to our US Representative as a class assignment. With her permission, I post it here as witness. 

Dear Representative,

I am one of 3 exchange students you met in March. I was remembering you a lot during my government class and I am very thankful for your time and ability to meet with us and answer our questions.  I really like a lot of your polices and respect you as an individual.

There’s one question I would like to discuss: giving more money for exchange programs. I think you can agree with me in the fact that most of all problems in the world right now (different wars, intolerance) are because of misunderstandings, lack of information and ability to see things from different perspectives. There’s nothing better you can do to get rid of misunderstandings, than to do more exchange programs. We, youth, are future, and in order for all of us to step to the next level of tolerance and peace we need to provide understanding between different cultures. I came here with the thought that Americans are stupid and fat, Muslim are terrorists and Germans are Nazi.  I’m so sorry for these thoughts and after this year of making friends in America and in the whole world at the same time, of being at the conferences and hearing that I will always have a place to stay and to be loved in any country of the world, I will never go to war with any country. I will do whatever I can to prevent the wars and I will not allow any of my friends and relatives to joke around about any country, religion or culture.

Everything I learned is because of the exchange program.

The USA spends a huge amount of money on military. Why? Because you have to be the best? Or because you are afraid that somebody will attack you? If there would be more international exchange, you wouldn’t have to worry about it, because like I know, people wouldn’t want to attack the countries where they have friends. If the USA would spend 1% of the money they are spending for military on the exchange programs, it would change the situation tremendously and would eliminate the possibility of war. It would give the world the possibility to understand that we have different cultures and religions, but at the same time we are so similar, and there’s no need to kill our brothers.

Thank you for your time to read this letter. I really appreciate it.

Anastasia

Compassion. Kindness. Forgiveness. Patience. Self-denial. Logic. Careful reasoning. Sense of call and purpose. Ability to see different viewpoints.

Love. Faith. Hope. Especially love.

Becoming family.

This is the greatest survival skill. I urge us all to practice it.

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