written by: Mrs. Melody Mante, Host Family from General Santos

Why? It may just be a simple question. A question that may need a simple answer. A question that made everyone asked from us. A question that even we asked ourselves.

Before giving you the answers, let me bring you back down memory lane to a not so long ago.

It was in 2012 when we moved here in General Santos City. And that time, our daughter, Gwyneth, was in her First Grade of Elementary. It was at that moment also that we have noticed the presence of foreigners walking and roaming the city freely and confidently.

Fortunately, I was assigned to appear before a court-designated family court here in the city. One of the social workers who handled cases involving minors is Ma’am Jang Odoya who happens to be a volunteer of the AFS.

It was Ma’am Jang who recruited me to host a student of AFS. I was kind of hesitant at first because I have no idea what this program was all about. Aside from the hesitation, we were just only renting a 2-bedroom unit.

However, when I relayed the invitation to my wife, she agreed without even worrying how we would be as host parents. Imagine, we were a young family then with totally no experience a teenager kid in the house. Our daughter was only 7 years old at that time. But nevertheless, we submitted our profile and after months of waiting, Ma’am Jang told us that we were chosen to host a 19-year old French girl from Troyes, France.

We received the profile of Camille Prudent of France sometime in June of 2013. We then researched ideas of having a host daughter in the house for a period of 10 months. We even studied some table manners and etiquette to at least impress our her. We even bought new 6 sets of spoon, fork and knife for our AFS.

Days before Camille would land in the Philippines, Ma’am Jang then oriented us the do’s and don’ts of a hosting an AFSer. It was our first orientation in general on what an AFS really is. It was that we learned for the first time that it’s merely voluntary to host and we could expect nothing from the organization. However, what made us more exciting is to treat the participant as a member of the family and not as a mere transient alien. Thus, Gwyneth would have an instant elder sister with a foreigner blood.

Sometime in July of 2013 when Camille and her other batchmates in the program landed in General Santos City. They were more less 10 AFS students at that time and all from European and American Countries except one who is from Thailand.

When Camille and her batchmates touched down here, we cannot forget her doubtful gaze at us. She cannot imagine allegedly that her foster parents here were still young and she felt awkward to call us Mom and Dad.

For a first-timer, we found it difficult but because Camille knew her purpose of coming here in the Philippines, we were able to pull it off. We made an agreement with her enumerating our house rules and regulations. We even included our curfew and even a schedule for her to contact her parents back in France.

Though some of the parents found it strict we never encountered issues and problems of hosting Camille in the house. Despite the fact that we were just renting at that time, Camille never complained anything.

Even at the start of Camille’s stay in the house, I and my wife already shared our culture to her. We started to introduce her to eat using bare hands especially with Chicken Inasal or Barbeque and I believed she had mustered the art of doing it.

My wife taught her to hand wash her clothes and even to do our dishes. There was even a time that we let her eat “balut” and it was the first time for us to witness a balut being eaten with the use of spoon and fork. We just called it eating “balut” the French way. Of course, Camille did not escape trying to taste durian. Though she puked but at least she had tried the same.

Our daughter Gwyneth was attached to Camille. Camille was her “sundo” in school and even a chaperon in her school activities if I and my wife could not make it. She and Camille would do the dishes together.

On November 2013, we moved to our new home but still here in the city. Despite the fact that Camille looked so fragile, she still managed to carry boxes of packed things with no qualms at all.

We brought Camille as far as Bataan in Luzon and in places in the south like in Midsayap, North Cotabato and in the Latin City of the South, Zamboanga City.

While we were in Zamboanga City, it was funny because most of the signages were written in Chavacano or loose Spanish dialect, it was Camille who became our impromptu translator. Aside from English, she also studied Spanish way back in France. Imagine, our foreigner is the translator in our very land?

When Camille’s program ended in May 2014, our daughter Gwyneth was affected the most with the separation anxiety. She cried hours knowing that Camille would no longer stay in her room after we sent her off to the airport. It took our daughter for almost a month to finally get over with it.

The experience of hosting an AFSer is really different. Imagine having an instant family from the other parts of the world and it has become possible because of AFS.

Aside from Camille, we have hosted Alfrodis Acosta of Panama, Lisbeth of Dominican Republic, Juliet of France and currently Yuna Ebisomoto of Japan.These kids are just a click away from us. Though they were from relatively the opposite of the globe, just one chat and they would be available to chat us and rekindle the memories we had here in the house. Sometimes, they will tell us about their achievements and even plans for their lives.

Still, I cannot fathom why to indulge in hosting an AFSer. It’s the feeling that is beyond words and description. It’s the happiness that we were able to impart Filipino cultures to the foreigners and at the same time feeling and sensing their cultures as well.