Note to new readers: Our family took in two foreign exchange students for the 2011-2012 school year. Denmark was a 17 yr old girl. China was a 16 yr old boy. The U.S. is our son (Little Man) and was 15 yrs old at the time. Israel, when home, is our (then) 22 yr old daughter (Principessa), and Canada our (then) 19 yr old son (Middle Man). This school year, 2013-2014, we did it all again, and welcomed Germany to the Assembly. He is an 18 year old boy, who joined the family and the U.N. and made it that much richer. I am The Secretary General. Smart Guy is Dad. Together, we are the U.N.: a home where laughs come daily, chaos reigns and borders fall easily, as we live like a real family. Know that no foreigners were hurt in the making of this blog post or in the incidents cited. All parties were aware that their comments were being noted; pictures were used with permission, and assistance in editing for privacy. That said…
I’ve been asked by several people, several times, over these past ten months, why I haven’t written anything about the U.N. Since last August, we’ve had Germany living with us, and throughout that time the U.S. and Germany have certainly provided plenty of amusing, entertaining, and thought-provoking topics. Canada has participated at times; China has participated on a few special occasions (now attending college nearby), and in the past few weeks, Israel as been in sessions as well. And yet, I’ve written very little about these ongoing international events. It is not a reflection on Germany, that so little has been said. It’s not because there were any top secret initiatives on the U.N. floor. Rather, it may be a reflection that international diplomacy has been very stable, and there was little to report. However, as the school year comes to a close and Germany prepares to leave the U.N. it’s hard not to look back over these months and reflect on how much we have all been impacted by this connection.
It goes without saying, but the world is a big place. It’s all together possible to live in a small town and never leave the U.S. or meet people from abroad. Admittedly, I’ve been fortunate since college to have traveled to many places, and to have met a lot of people from other countries. In the past two years our family has been truly blessed to host three exchange students, from three different countries. Two years ago the U.N. opened with Denmark and China, who were each here for ten months, during the same school year. The U.N. was in full session 24/7 and we faced all kinds of international as well as run of the mill issues and challenges. We all grew and shared a remarkable year together. Last year we were a single nation family, Israel back in Jerusalem and Canada off at school and then abroad for a semester in China.
It was a strange year– quiet, but not uneventful. In addition to the dissolution of the U.N. our marriage suffered some cracks as well, and we found ourselves living separately for nine months. It was a time for all nations and parties to reflect on personal goals, conflict resolution, international boundaries and strategic planning. Individual nations had issues to resolve, while the greater structure of the U.N. needed some tweaking as well. No sooner had we reconciled bilateral conflicts and reached détente– all sides willing to work on issues and reach rapprochement– when we received a call from Germany (the country). Would we be willing to allow an 18 year old German boy to live with us for the year, so that he could graduate from the U.S. high school he once attended?
Admittedly, the timing was not ideal. Borders were still being determined, negotiations were still tenuous at times, despite overall improvements. We were entirely transparent about these issues with the countries involved. However, the choice was pretty clear from day one. If the U.S. needed allied support, we would hope to have it; how could we not offer the same in return? In fact, it was the U.S. (the boy) who pointed out: “how can we not help him (Germany- the boy)?” Who can argue with a strong minded, and compassionate ambassador” As part of negotiations, the U.S. traveled to Germany for two weeks in August 2013 to begin collaborative ventures. Site seeing: castles; the BMW plant; beer gardens; Munich and the surrounding area, and a meaningful trip to Dachau, for a German teenager and Jewish American teen, were part of the terms. By the time Germany arrived at the U.N. ties were already forged.
As these things go, negotiations started out fairly easy. Germany was anxious to please and motivated to see things go well. That is the way with exchange students, and the U.N. was prepared for this honeymoon phase. There were adjustments to make room for new dietary preferences, new shower dilemmas (hello? water conservation?), and all the work that goes into getting a new nation to understand the customs of another nation. There were adjustments, but they went very smoothly. Germany is all about order and smooth transitions. The U.N. benefited from this new model of order and structure.
It’s been an incredible year. In the best of times, the U.N. is a busy place. There is no lack of activity and events. Germany was not accustomed to this, and the first few weeks he had to catch up with the quips, multi-lateral sparring, and free-for-all craziness. He found his groove in no time, and added to the fun seamlessly. And that is a key detail of this past year at the U.N.: Fun. There was a lot of fun, a lot of laughter, and a lot of bonding. The U.N. took several international journeys, to forge new cultural experiences and explore exciting places. We started the year a the top of Whistler Mountain, in British Columbia, enjoyed spring break in Belize, “on a boat,” and weathered all the holidays, school, and personal events in between. Relations culminated in the graduation from high school, for both the U.S. and Germany.
Along the way, Germany became family. He became a brother to the U.S. and someone I’m proud and moved to call son. As Madame Secretary, I’m supposed to remain neutral; that is part of the job. However, after 3 exchange students– admittedly I fall short in this department. I have loved them all. Yet, Germany really holds a special part of my heart and the idea that he will board a plane tomorrow (Saturday) and return to… well, Germany… is unbearable. Germany and the U.S. became so close, that it’s now hard to imagine the U.S. with out his ally. U.S. became a neater, calmer place for having spent time with Germany, and Germany became a more relaxed, playful place for having known the U.S. Both are better for it.
Seeing both nations march up to the stage last week and receive their diplomas was enough to undo me… although, one could argue: it doesn’t take much to undo me right now. Everything makes me cry. Songs on the radio, talking about the things we’ve done together, talking about the goodbyes, the wind blowing… pretty much anything might have me in tears, at any given moment. It has been a big year, and we all got through it together. When things were tough, all nations circled the wagons and let me know things would be ok. When things were fun, we laughed until we split our sides. We tried new foods together; we shared new holiday traditions– from Hanukkah candles to Italian Christmas cake; we explored new places; some of us became soccer junkies together, and we all tried so many new things (snorkeling with sharks and rays, snorkeling at night, ferris wheels, hikes, and ceviche)… we started out as a group of people who knew each other a little and liked each other enough to help out, and end as people who love each other enormously and would do anything for one another… without a moment’s hesitation.
The U.N. is dissolving, and that is tough to imagine. When Germany departs, borders will close– with only Israel, Canada and the U.S. remaining… and even that is short-term, as Canada will leave for Australia August 2nd; Israel will return to Israel in late August; and the U.S. is ready to fly. He’s getting his bearings and figuring out where, but fly he will. Madame Secretary, admittedly, isn’t good at this part. I’ve flown the coop, before Germany can. I’m in North Carolina at a wedding… far from hugs, and goodbyes, and watching that boy leave. Because, for the record, I’m not sure I could watch that boy leave; I left first. There’s nothing like a road trip, to help me find my bearings again. There will not be any other exchange students, they broke the mold with Denmark, China and Germany… The U.N. isn’t open to further international exploration; with Germany’s departure the Secretary General retires, and the U.N. closes session. We’ve had an incredible run, and have no regrets, but a heart can only expand and contract, and fracture, so much. This heart, my heart, is bigger and stronger than it was because the U.N. was all about love. For that, our world is a better place.
Note: While the U.N. is dissolving, the nations involved will continue relations. China now attends college “close to home,” and is an hour away. He calls or texts regularly: “Mum, can I visit this weekend?” The U.S. and Secretary General will visit Denmark (the country) at the end of June, and will stay with Denmark and her family. Germany is headed home, but his other home will always be here. Something tells me, the U.S., Israel and Canada will always fly back to the U.N., as they circle the globe. The Secretary General and Smart Guy, intend to get it right and bilateral explorations.
Final note: Germany, you are a part of our family forever. You have been a sheer joy to have. Even when you weren’t, your ability to grow and work through challenges impressed us all. You are a much more mature guy than when you arrived, and damn! You can do some laundry and dishes too! I know you will do well, and be successful, in anything you set your mind to. And you remember… you always have a home, in the U.S. With love. xox The Secretary General
For more about the U.N. read: The U.N. Ab Work Out; Soundbites From the U.N.; Gantstas, TMI, and More From the U.N.; The U.N. Full Assembly; Lessons in Loss and How the U.N. Really Did Dissolve Into Puddles; and check the Archives for more.
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What an incredible extended family you have created and nurtured. The relationships will last a lifetime! A great learning experience for all, but hard to see the home front change as the kids finish school and move on.
Yes, it will be a very different home in a few months! I feel very fortunate to have had these amazing experiences. Thanks for stopping by, Maryanne; it’s much appreciated. 😀
Dawn, What a lovely experience for all of you. 🙂 —Susan
It truly has been, Susan. Thanks for stopping by!
You have such a capacity for love and such a big heart! Thanks for serving as a U.N. Ambassador in your part of the world. Your children – all of them – are well prepared to live and thrive in this wonderful world. I love reading of your stories of your family’s adventures in diplomacy.
Thanks Cathy. Today, knowing that Germany will leave… my heart only feels heavy. Thank goodness I’ll be at a wedding when his plane departs. No one will notice the tears. Thanks for sharing the journey! xo
Remember what you said – they’ll always have a home. i know it seems as if everything is scattered, but they know where they can come ‘home’ to at any time. It’s a heart-wrenching thing you do as a host, but also a beautiful thing.
If my kids live abroad this way, I hope they’ll find the love these kids have found with your family.
Welcome to Tales From the Motherland, Eli, and thank you so much for your kind words. Makes me feel good to think about it that way, but today, my heart is a little broken, as Germany heads home. I appreciate you taking the time to read, and share your thoughts. 🙂
Thanks Dawn! I completely understand the heartbreak today. So glad Toby shared your post.
What a beautiful tribute and send off. Just about brought me to tears! It’s amazing how our hearts crack open and break apart, growing ever expanded.
Absolutely! It never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for the kind words, Susan.
It is a tribute to your skill as a writer that you maintained the U.N. metaphor throughout and still had plenty of room to fit in all the love that shines through in your story. If only all international relations could take an example from your story and apply your principles of love, respect and grace to getting along in the world. Your story, straight from the heart, is a joy to read. – Mike
Ahh Mike… You are such a sweet hear and supporter! thanks so much! Dawn
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