When our son Harry came home from school and told us he wanted to apply for the Cultural Exchange Program, our initial response was reluctance. We were apprehensive about having a stranger live in our house and nervous about handing our beautiful boy over to another family on the other side of the world. If it had not been for his determination and perseverance we would have missed out on the most incredible, life-changing experience the program ended up providing Harry and our family as a whole.
Harry was assigned St Aidans in Harrogate in the UK and his exchange partner was a boy named Harrison. In the months before Harrison arrived the boys developed a solid friendship online and we met his family on FaceTime prior to his visit.
It was with nervous excitement that we greeted the eight St Aidans students late on a Sunday night in March 2017. We were incredibly fortunate that the boys hit it off immediately and that night heralded the beginning of what is sure to be a lifelong bond. They were inseparable and literally at no point had a terse word or moment of conflict for the four weeks Harrison was with us. In fact, the majority of the group connected beautifully and they were close throughout the exchange program.
Harrison is a smart, interesting, adventurous, considerate, kind-hearted boy and we adored having him in our family. It was an action packed time trying to squeeze in as much sightseeing as we could around school commitments. The highlight for the boys was a weekend in Sydney.
Saying goodbye to Harrison was hard but the boys excitedly anticipated Harry’s visit to Harrogate about six weeks later. The fact that our experience had been so overwhelmingly positive gave us reassurance that Harry was going to a wonderful family.
To say that he had a brilliant time would be an understatement. He found the school very different to Carey but he enjoyed it. But it was the friendships formed and the travel his host family generously arranged that have left an indelible imprint on him. The experience opened his eyes to the world and opportunities he would never have had outside the cultural exchange. He learnt independence, responsibility, resilience and an increased self-awareness and self-confidence.
We decided to add a family holiday onto Harry’s exchange and had the wonderful opportunity to spend a weekend with his host family. It was truly life-changing. We discovered a bond through our shared love of our boys and the wonderful experience they had had.
Our families reunited in Bali last year where that friendship was well and truly cemented. We are excited to be welcoming them to share Christmas with us in Melbourne this year. It has also led to a new friendship with another Carey family we would never have otherwise met when Harrison’s sister Saskia came on exchange this year.
I could not recommend the exchange program more highly, not just for the student involved but for the family as a whole.