It’s not, “Goodbye.” It’s, “See you later.”

Today is the day! A cycle in my exchange year that is never easy, regardless of how many years I host. Timo, my Dutch student, will fly home to The Netherlands today. Andre, my German student, will leave tomorrow.

I can recall the first year I hosted. I jumped in at 29 years old with both feet and just went for it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, only that I wanted the experience of learning a new culture and being able to share my life, family and friends with an eager kid from Germany.

July 28 of last year is the day I picked up Timo and Andre. Timo flew into Huntsville, while Andre was supposed to have been on the same flight. Due to a delay in Andre’s first leg of his trip to Alabama he was diverted to Chattanooga, Tenn.

The posters my sister, LuAnne Tubbs, and her children made read “Welcome to Alabama!” We all laughed at the confused stares we received from the other passengers as they exited the terminal. Andre was too tired to notice, as well as too hungry to care.

Each year I am asked the question, “What will you miss most about your boys?” Honestly, there are many things I’ll miss, but nothing I can pinpoint. Each one is different. Therefore, I’ll miss different things with each one. I may miss a quirky laugh from one or goofy expressions from another. The fact is, I’ll miss them both.

I’ll miss the fun times we had together. And I’ll miss the challenging times we had together. The fun times are what make it enjoyable and addicting. The challenging times keep us together and close. We learn from each occasion. I say “we”, because I learn from them as equally as they learn from this experience.

I hope that each year I host, I’m able to teach the boys how to become more independent. I aim to help them learn how to appreciate the things they have back home. I try to emphasize the importance of respect to family, friends and those who are strangers.

Those who know me, know I’m a strict parent. I have reasons for my rules. I’m not here to give these students a free joy ride for 10 months. The past 17 boys I’ve hosted can certainly attest to my rules. Words they have used to describe them include stupid, crazy, insane and sometimes cruel.

I make a commitment to their parents each year. That commitment is to make sure they enjoy their experience and get the most from it. However, it is also to provide a safe environment for them to live one year away from home.

As I say goodbye to Timo today, I have to constantly remind myself that is isn’t “Goodbye.” It is, “See you later.” Will I cry today? It’s likely! Will Timo cry today? He better!

Tomorrow I’ll face the same with Andre. The tissues are ready and the anti-depression medicine (chocolate) is ready. I’ll have a quiet house for two months until the next round arrives. Then on to a new adventure and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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