Just before Spring Break we had a student arrive to stay with us. The plan was that she'd be here for six months. She is from Taiwan and is in her 40s. She chose Melissa as her "English name".
It was a bit of a rocky start, thanks to the home stay coordinator not really communicating information to us. She had emailed the date she was arriving. Later she sent another email, with her flight information, but didn't point out that the date had changed. Allen went to the airport on the appointed day and waited and waited. We finally called the home stay coordinator, only to find out she had given us the new information. She said, "Maybe I should have pointed out that the date changed."
Oh well, at least we were quite ready - a week ahead of schedule. It was quite a lot of work to get ready for her to stay because Jill had moved downstairs into the room where students have traditionally stayed at our house. We had to get a bed and set up the room, basically from scratch. We got the job done though.
Finally, the real day of her arrival came. Allen went to the airport again and waited and waited. He finally ran into a man who works for the home stay coordinating company. They eventually found out her flight had been delayed and she would arrive about five hours late. Later that evening he and I both went to the airport. Eventually she did arrive.
She seemed quite nice. I thought it would work quite well to have someone who is older stay with us. There would be no need to teach her how to do laundry or any of those other things we often have to do when we have younger students stay with us. Not only that, she didn't get lost her first day! She was eager to go out and explore and found things quite easily. How refreshing!!
The honeymoon was short. After about four days the home stay coordinator contacted us to say she wanted to move out because she didn't like the food and could we reimburse her the money. I was a little offended. I had been quite a good cook those few days too!! We hadn't had cereal for dinner once! (Looking back, I think she may have enjoyed cereal for dinner actually) I pushed back on that idea of her moving out and refunding her money and asked if they could simply find out what she likes to eat and we would try to accommodate. Her response: No western food please. That seemed a little unreasonable. We decided that perhaps she could make her own food and join us when it seemed appetizing to her. (Can you hear me grumbling?)
That was the weekend. On Tuesday she left at her usual 8 am to go to school, only to crawl back into the house a few minutes later. She slipped on some ice - I think the only patch of ice in Calgary! The poor woman. It swelled up really quickly and seemed kind of bad so we took her to the hospital to get it checked out. What a disaster that whole experience was. First of all they wouldn't really do anything for her until she paid a hospital fee of $720! We scrambled to find her insurance information so that they could rest assured that she did have coverage. Then the waiting began. Emergency department/day surgery/unit....It took until Friday for her to be released. It turned out she had broken her leg in two places and had to have surgery. It took them until Thursday to get her in for surgery. She spent a lot of time in tears - likely some of the tears because of the pain, and more tears because she now really just wanted to go home.
Luckily, in the hospital, she had an Asian doctor who connected her with someone at a Chinese church. They came and visited her in the hospital and later at our house every day. They were wonderful. One interesting thing was that they would bring her food each time they came to visit. Asian food of course. And she didn't always like that food either. That helped me feel a little better about her not liking my cooking. Maybe she just is rather particular about food.
This was my week of Spring Break. I had great plans for Spring Break and they got thwarted that Tuesday. I spent all day Tuesday at the hospital with her, visited a number of times on Wednesday and Thursday, and then brought her home Friday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I was concerned about leaving her alone too much and tried to make sure I looked after her needs.
She was really eager to go home. Her English was very basic and communication was difficult. It was clear, though, that after she had the surgery, her plan was to get on a plane and go home. I talked to the nurses about this so that they were aware. When she visited with the doctor he explained to her that she needed to return for a follow up visit in two weeks to see how it was healing. At that point, and no sooner, could she make plans for traveling. More tears. Lots of tears.
She had been quite cranky and less than talkative this entire time - like from the day after she arrived right through all this broken leg business. I could hardly blame her. I can't imagine going to another country at my age to learn a new language and leaving my teenagers behind. Also, having an accident like that in another country must be terrifying. However, Sunday she was very smiley and talkative. After inviting me to come to Taiwan she told me that on Monday she'd be moving.
I should have been relieved. Instead I was irritated. I had tried so hard to help make her comfortable and there seemed to be nothing that brought her comfort. She hesitated to ask me for anything. She'd ask the Chinese ladies, when they came over, to help with her laundry (which meant they'd ask me about it and I'd go do her laundry). She'd be chatty chatty chatty with them.....and short with me. I should have been happy to see her go - but instead I was irritated that nothing I did was comforting to her and that she really wasn't happy here.
In some ways I have been irritated with the whole affair. In some ways though it really got me thinking about service and friendship and connecting. I'm sure I could have done more to try to connect with Melissa and form a friendship. I was happy to help her and try to make life more comfortable for her. As the days have gone by those bad feelings have faded quickly.
I feel sad that it didn't work out. There is a lot more I could have done, I'm sure. Sometimes, connecting with people from different cultures is tricky. Really tricky.