My Hungarian Girl
By Danette Key

I’ve always wanted a daughter.  At least I thought I did. I would always watch my friends with their girls and feel like somehow I got jilted. Don’t get me wrong, my three boys are wonderful boys and I am so proud of them! But I really yearned for a girl.

So when I heard about the foreign exchange program I was ecstatic!  This was my avenue to the dream I had always had.

When Reka came to our home, I remember her first day as we drove her from the airport. It was a long trip from Hungary for her.  We showed her the area as we drove. In the 20 minutes it took us to get her home, she already had a headache from all the English spoken around her. (I found this out later when she was better at forming her feelings into words). We wanted her to be excited about the desert around her, the area we lived in. 

Once she was situated in her room and unpacked.  We sat down for dinner.  I had only one boy at home at the time and he instantly had a big sister. And a big sister she was. She made sure he took a shower and brushed his teeth. Something moms always tell their kids, but seem like it goes in one ear and out the other. So having Reka there was almost like having someone in my corner for a change.

It was refreshing!

But that is not the only reason I chose to participate in the exchange. She was here to understand the American culture and get to know our country. We were blessed with the ability to show her around. She brought a sweet spirit into our home and more than once just sat and watched us as we interacted.

I remember one such day.  I was making dinner for our small family and she was sitting on a stool watching me, ready to hop in anytime I needed her.  She had a smile on her face the whole time. A couple of times she giggled. Finally, I asked her “What?”

She pointed out that I was a very messy cook.  She was right, but honestly I never had defined what I was until then.  What enlightenment for me!  Boys don’t notice that type of thing. I still am a messy cook, but now I am aware of it!

Reka did very well in school. That is one plus with Foreign exchange students, they must have a certain competency to even be here in the states.  She studied and asked questions. We sat down a few times, especially for her Economics class and discussed what was expected from her for the homework. It was very rewarding watching this young lady grow to love Americans and our culture. From my understanding, all foreign exchange students have to take American Government. Her and my husband had a few conversations about that.  We grew to love her and accept her in our home.

The kids at school loved her too. Most schools open their arms to foreign exchange students. They know that the students learn quite a lot from having other kids their age from another country interact with them. They learn cultural differences. They learn that each country governs their people differently. They learn that kids from other countries struggle with the exact same thing American kids struggle with.  Peer pressure, acne, bullying, teasing, infatuation and parents who “just don’t understand”.  Hopefully, this will instill in our American kids the love and appreciation of the freedoms they so many times take for granted. The foreign exchange student becomes an advocate for America. Most Foreign exchange students know how important the United States is for their future employment.  Having a foreign exchange on their resume is as important as a college degree. Some countries use the year in United States as a credit for another language. With English fast becoming the International language, these kids understand that they cannot mess up while they are here.  It is drilled into them by counselors, representatives of the exchange and their parents how perfect they must be during the year stay. Many times Reka and I had conversations about any parties she was invited to.  And one time she actually called me to come get her, I was so proud of her.

This was almost better than having my own daughter! 

Now she is back in Hungary. It was a bittersweet farewell.

She is a chef now in a small hotel. I like to believe that she developed her skills watching this messy cook and hopefully took some of the American culture with her to Hungary. She has stayed in contact with us and has expressed the good memories of her stay with us many times in those correspondences.  I miss her.

We visited her two years ago for a week and saw her hometown and met her family.  It was a wonderful experience.  Two sets of parents meeting for the first time and sharing the memories of their child. One of my favorite times is when Reka was teasing us about leaving sooner than we planned, her dad seemed to understand what she said and chastised her.  Because of his very limited English, she was able to cover up her blunder and explain to her dad what she wanted him to think she really said. It was quite funny, actually.

We continue to keep our friendship alive and we will always love her and hope for the best for her. I know that most anyone who hosts a foreign exchange student has expressed the same feelings about the student. Those who I have spoken with also have kept in touch and created lifelong friendships around the world.

This is what a foreign exchange is really all about, relationships around the world.