We want to do what's right for our family, our kids, and our community. In order to do that, we agreed to host an Amity intern to work at Milwaukee German Immersion School last year. In fact, we agreed to host one each semester for nine weeks each. While hosting another adult was the right thing to do and we're glad we did it, we will not be hosting one next year. We hope others give it a try while they have students at the school, and this article will be a review of the experience along with some suggestions for the future of the program.
Since I work as a teacher, I know about the stresses at work. Since I work as a teacher in Wisconsin, I know about yearly cuts and a general feeling by the populace that I do not work hard enough. When Helena's school was asking for help with hosting interns at the same time my school was being decimated by budget cuts, Lisa and I saw it as an opportunity to help our daughter's school while also helping all public schools. We jumped in and offered our house. We weren't thinking about the implied repayment of a place to stay in Germany. We weren't thinking about possible inconveniences. We just thought that we had to do something to help, and our house was kind of big enough to provide that help.
We needed to get approval from the German Immersion Foundation to become a host family, so they conducted a tour of our house over the summer. That went fine. We said we'd have the kids share a room and give the intern the other bedroom in our three-bedroom house. The kids were initially excited about the arrangements. We were lucky enough to get a second-hand bunk bed so that I didn't have to buy one. The other option was to have them share one large bed, with the intern taking the smaller bed in the smaller room. Luckily, this was not necessary, and I'm not sure that method would have worked very well with the kids. Helena was just old enough to use the top bunk, but we would have liked to have waited a couple more years to use the bunk bed based on safety concerns. Anyhow, we now had the smaller room set up for both kids and the bigger room for the intern.
The fact that we were able to use the bigger room for the interns proved fairly important. They liked hanging out in the room a lot of the time. The first intern texted friends and Skyped using our wifi, which is probably just as important an item to have available to the interns. I could see a tiny bedroom and no wireless connection being a real problem based on comments I heard. We have a great house for parties and family living space, but our bedrooms and bathrooms are a bit limited for an intern, which has helped to dictate our desire to take a year off.
We have three bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom/theater room in the basement. We also have one bathroom up and one down. However, we could not ask an intern to sleep in a basement bedroom. Some of our friends were even surprised we made our intern use the basement bathroom for showers. We had to do what made sense for us, and since I'm out of the house before everyone else wakes up, it made the most sense to have her shower downstairs.
As the semester went on, the intern became more comfortable with coming out of her room to work on her computer and watch movies with us, but she really seemed to stay in her room a lot. We gave her opportunities to clean her sheets and vacuum her room. Lisa did not want to be her maid, but it's kind of awkward because we also found it difficult to really ask her to clean when she did not volunteer to clean. Was she our guest, our friend, our "daughter," or something else? She would likely have done whatever we asked, but asking is not that easy or always thought of, so it remained a bit uncomfortable. The second intern was pretty much the same.
Our first intern got the international license to drive. I'm not sure what it entails, but she was able to legally drive. When I asked my insurance company, they said that they would not have to add her to my insurance policy as long as she only drove a certain number of times in the time she was with us. She didn't want to drive, so it was not an issue. I had her drive me to the store once in order to try it out, and we thought it was good to have another adult around with the ability to drive if we ran into an emergency situation. The second intern did not have a license to drive here, and it did not appear that either intern really wanted to drive in America.
Most of the daily transportation was arranged. The bus picked up our intern along with the child attending the school. The bus company had not received all the correct information, so that was a small hassle, but nothing major. It was the after-school or weekend times that we needed to either provide for or help arrange transportation that sometimes got difficult. Our intern did not try to make life difficult, but the situations that arose created that feeling nonetheless: she needed to meet someone after school, she needed to get to school early to tutor, or she needed to go shopping after the kids were in bed.
Before we even got our first intern for the nine weeks, we were dealing with a major transportation issue. The kid she tutored for lived in Bay View. The parents are friends with the first host family, and were happy to pick the intern up from that house on the way to MGIS. However, even though it would have added about five minutes to the drive, they would not pick her up from our house. Therefore, either I had to add nearly a half hour to my commute once a week, or we needed to find another way. I used my internet spy skills to determine that Helena's teacher lived fairly close to us, and we gave him a call. Luckily, he agreed to help out, but now we felt we owed him. The city bus option would have been ridiculous (a half hour on the bus and a twenty-minute walk through the snow). We didn't have other resources available, like a host family taxi service or anything, so it was up to us to figure out. We have asked ourselves a few times why there isn't a taxi service available. Instead of hosting, some families could just volunteer to drive once in a while.
Our intern tried to avoid inconveniencing us. However, that led to other stresses. For example, would I let my own daughter take Milwaukee's city bus to and from a Water Street bar? Would I allow her to ride the bus alone at all? I've ridden the bus enough to realize people are generally harmless, but they're not entirely your everyday average representatives of high-society. Therefore, we worried, arranged any rides we could, and helped plan any bus rides to the T. Sometimes we'd get a call telling us she was going to stay with a friend or her former host family. Lisa never liked this option a lot because we were responsible for the well-being of the intern, but we also didn't want to pick her up from a bar at 2:30 AM.
The final transportation issue (or the first if you're hosting from the beginning of the semester) is the airport. Interns should really be told that Chicago is a last option for their flights. On a bad day, it's about the equivalent of telling your host family in London to come pick you up in Paris. Seriously, Chicago traffic and Midwest weather can combine to make the whole experience ridiculous. Our first intern arranged to stay with someone from Illinois the night before her flight so that we avoided this issue, but she had a 7 AM flight from Chicago on a day that included a snow storm (on my only day off from work). I guess the question is who's going to tell them how silly it is to take a Chicago flight to Florida, even if Chicago worked best for the international flight.
One tip for other transportation is that they may have an international travel card, and our intern saved ten dollars when she took the train to Chicago. Those cards could help at museums and other tourist attractions, too, so ask, especially if you're paying.
Overall, our interns really tried to make transportation convenient for us, but transportation in America is generally not convenient unless you own a car, so be prepared for driving if you decide to host.
Lisa was kind of hoping our interns would go places with her and they'd be able to hang out a bit. While they did hang out and go shopping a couple of times, we had to accept the fact that we're a half generation older than any of these interns. The interns went out to bars and had late night parties. Lisa didn't even do that too much while in college. Plans were often made in real time with text messages. Lisa is used to a calendar on the wall and a week's notice, not to mention 10pm bedtimes. Our second intern involved Lisa in doing some singing with several singing groups at church... yes, I said several. Remember, they are younger AND they don't have as many responsibilities, so if you volunteer, you might be taking someone to the gym eight times a week.
I took the whole group to Madison one time. In general, it was a good time. However, my friend Jeff, who was once a dance club hero, refused to go into the one Madison bar all of the interns probably wanted to be in. I guess it all means that if you're in your thirties or forties and hoping to re-live your college glory days, you might have to look and feel silly doing so. You're not old--they're just young, but it's really the same thing.
We hosted each of our interns for the second nine weeks, which means they'd both already experienced all eight interesting things to do in the area before visiting us. This situation can be a let-down if you allow it to be. Most of us enjoy being the tour guide, but being the tour guide involves a lot of time, so it's a bit of a trade off. I like trying to find unique and interesting places to visit. I've lived in the same city my entire life and still have a lot to see here. Still, not all plans will work out or be much fun, which is pretty standard for life.
The suggestion was that host families separate food and avoid paying for interns when going out. We tried this and were fairly good at sticking to the rules. However, food still presented some issues. Neither intern wanted the lunch at school, and though we were not really responsible for lunches, we did offer to let them use some of our food for this. We didn't keep track of lunch too much; one seemed to either not eat a whole lot or supplement her lunches with granola bars she bought, while the other bought salad for her main lunch meals.
Breakfast and dinner were provided by us, and Lisa made most of the meals, as usual. The intern was not much of a cook, though she did make the effort once. Generally, she helped Lisa when asked (like I do), but I do not get the impression that food preparation was any easier with the intern around. Keep in mind that we tend to make actual meals more often than a lot of families, so if you're used to pizzas and TV dinners, then all you do is buy a bigger pizza or make one more TV dinner.
Our second intern does not like Milwaukee water. While I can't imagine that, having lived here my entire life, I know people have their preferences. She offered to buy water. Lisa bought it at least once. We are not going to go broke purchasing drinking water, but it's just a reminder that you might run into philosophical differences when it comes to items that the intern needs or wants. For example, Lisa was surprised with how upset one of the other interns was about not having internet access at her first placement. We were never told it was expected of us to host their wireless needs, but the interns all seemed to agree with the assessment that it certainly was expected by them.
The German Immersion Foundation itself put us in the only really uncomfortable situations with the intern and food. We had two get-togethers at which we were expected to bring the intern or show up because we had an intern. The first meeting was at the Schwabenhof, which is basically reminiscent of the old VFW halls. I think the cole slaw was deep fried. The prices were too high and food was too bad for us to ever go there on our own, let alone treat someone else. We also went to Mama's or whatever Mama Mia's is now called. Pretty much the same: eat your cold pizza and lasagna, then pay a lot for the experience, and likely pay a second time for the intern (which we did). If we're going to get fatter and poorer taking someone out, we'd rather it be on our own terms. This is where the foundation really dropped the ball: pay for the interns to eat or don't have the parties. Really, this was probably the number one reason we decided not to host a second year right away, as it just left a deep-fried, luke-warm taste in our mouths.
Our first intern wanted to sleep in or be elsewhere on Sunday mornings. Our second intern wanted to sing in church even if she's not religious herself. It's probably tough to really know what you're going to get when it comes to values, especially ones that might affect a family with young kids. Right now it's pretty easy to explain that the intern got home "late" and leave it at that. If our kids were in high school when she came in at 3:30 AM, that might be a little tougher, but as long as they're adults, the interns should be allowed to make some decisions about that. In general, the interns are caring human beings who want to work with kids, so I wouldn't worry too much about values.
The kids get a good lesson in sharing - space, time, food, and transportation. They even get to share their values with the meal-time prayer. Overall, the sharing was a good experience, but one of the factors in not putting ourselves on the list to host next year is Helena's desire to keep her room. We don't have a McMansion, so unless Helena decides to share her space again, we'll have to continue to say no.
No, I didn't get into long political discussions with either intern. The last category to consider is politics, however, since there is an implied understanding about reciprocation that gets a bit dizzying. I understand that both host families can expect to receive an invitation from the intern or the intern's family for a place to stay while in the others' country. It's probably fair to expect that, but if it's not offered, then it's not offered. However, the politics seem to come in from other directions, as well. Our first intern did some tutoring and was invited to some events with the family that hired her. They're planning on a trip to Germany. She also met a local college student who is planning on a trip to Germany (and she was initially going to bring several friends). Who knows how many others were lining up for a chance to stay in a nice place while touring another country. Don't get me wrong, I did the same thing back in college: my best friend and I hung out with an exchange student named Phil several times before he returned to Germany, and we asked if we could see him, so he offered to host us for three days. His host family probably pegged us as freeloaders, but it was nice to have the place to crash, so I get it, but it's just something you'll have to deal with if you host.
You may also have to deal with the politics of disappointment. We heard some complaining about assignments and other host families. My theory is that the Germans spoil their kids as much as we do, and those kids come over here with certain expectations. Unfortunately for them, perhaps, MGIS is a Milwaukee Public School and the parents are not in the top one percent. The other problem is that the interns are not told enough. They need to know that they'll be teaching German all day. They need to know that a lot of host families are stretching to take them in. A bit more communication would limit many of the issues we heard about.
Hosting an intern for the German Immersion School was a great experience overall. Each family should try it at least once. The kids had a blast and learned a lot, and we were able to help an educator get required experience. However, like many of the families, we don't have the time, space, or energy to host each year. Maybe we will offer again in the future. We hope that if you do, this article will help you out a bit.