Compassion Story of the Month: Taking in two was even better

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With Brattleboro voting overwhelmingly to become part of the international Charter for Compassion, the Reformer and The Commons have agreed to publish a "compassion story of the month." This is the thirty-second. Information on submissions from Brattleboro area residents is offered below.

By Melany Kahn

Our family of four signed up to host an exchange student for a year, a wonderful boy named Yahye from Somaliland. While the experience was a rich one from the outset, we had no idea that the fun was about to double.

Bennet from Germany was on Yahye's soccer team. About a month into the program, we learned that Bennet was in need of a temporary home and possibly a new placement. We welcomed Bennet for a weekend, which turned into a week ... and then we found ourselves discussing the possibility of having both boys stay with us for the year.

We soon began to discover the upsides: the fun of overhearing the boys playing games together, or trying to figure out how to do their laundry — and we soon discovered the wonders of extending our family in this unique fashion.

Bennet settled in quickly and happily. At home he is an only child, but here he has a host brother and sister and an exchange brother.

After soccer season ended, Bennet joined the Nordic ski team, no small feat having never skied before. He then took on league volleyball and basketball, and even signed up for circus arts. His English has improved markedly. Bennet is trying to eat more vegetables (no onions though!) and drink less soda, after learning how many grams of sugar are in each serving. He has an infectious sense of humor, and so fits right in with our family of jokesters which so enjoys playing pranks on one another. At the same time, he is helpful and inquisitive and so affable. Now we can't remember what it was like not having him here with us.

Bennet's story — and Yahye's and ours, are about the leaps of faith involved both for students and families when they jump into this wonderful, adventurous unknown. Of course, there can be ups and downs and speed bumps along the way, but ultimately there is this very distinct possibility of life-changing wonder. Of course, the same holds whenever we embark on travels to unknown destinations. And ... above all ... it applies to the search for a rich and fulfilling life.

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OPEN YOUR HOME

Jill Stahl Tyler, the coordinator for the international exchange students in the Brattleboro area, explains that the program is open to all types of families. "Mel's family's experience is wonderful to see — but pretty typical, actually. Opening your home to someone from another country can be such a rich experience for all involved."

Stahl Tyler notes that there are many ways to get involved with exchange students in our area. "Some of the students have a built-in volunteer requirement — like Kuya from Malaysia, committed to volunteering 100 hours between late January and early April. Last year, Green Street School and Oak Grove School both had Li from China come in to play his bamboo flute. (Li also played with the Windham County Orchestra). Often the exchange students get involved in the language clubs at Brattleboro Union High School, which benefit all the participants."

The greater Brattleboro area has been very accommodating to hosting exchange students in general — but Stahl Tyler says that she always is looking for more host families "for the 20 young Spanish students coming in June for a summer program, and for next year's semester and academic year students."

"Even in Brattleboro, finding host families is the hardest job I've ever done. By far!" she laughs. "But I do it because it has the extraordinary potential to change the lives not only of the visitors, but also of the families, the fellow students, and everyone else who has contact with them."

Both Kahn and Stahl Tyler agree: seeing Brattleboro's diversity expand through the welcoming of these young people from around the world fits right in with the high premium Brattleboro places on compassion.

Host families are always needed. If you are interested in learning more, see www.globalcow.com/exchange.

Submissions, from Brattleboro area residents, for future publication, not to exceed 650 words, should be emailed to: compassionstory@gmail.com or mailed to: Compassion Story of the Month, PO Box 50, Marlboro, VT 05344. Please include your name, address, phone number and email address. Earlier submitted stories will automatically be considered in subsequent months.


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