The French Connection

The French Connection

It was August of 2009 when Jenn & I’s lives changed forever. It started with an email and a phone call we received after returning from dinner on a Saturday night.    

Our friends Tom & Hillary had hosted a foreign exchange student whom we met a few weeks prior.  While we were intrigued by the idea, I also have to admit that we thought it was one of the craziest things we had ever heard.  Well it seems that their student had a friend who was trying to study in Florida and was having trouble getting a host family and wanted to know if we may be interested.  We looked at each other for a second and then thought this seems just crazy enough to work.     

In Tampa for a Baseball Game

The next morning we woke up and said “yeah, this is probably not a great idea”…guess what…too late, thankfully the wheels were already in motion.  One of the many lessons I’ve learned from this experience is that sometimes you just need to jump in feet first and let everything happen the way it is supposed to.  Much like Nolin’s story, Axelle arrived at our house about 3 weeks after we had been told about her.    

That was the craziest few weeks of our lives.  Jenn and I had to get our house ready for Axelle’s arrival.  We started with the easy things…set up the guest bedroom, get a desk for her to do school work, clean the house, etc.  Since we didn’t have any kids, I didn’t realize the difficult part would be school.    

Axelle Goes To Washington

Jenn and I had finally wrapped our hands around this concept of the two of us being responsible for fostering international relations (that is a scary thought that someone’s view of our country would be largely shaped on us). When I called the school district office, I found out that they wouldn’t accept Axelle at our local high school because her paperwork had only arrived two hours before the deadline .  I feel that I am a pretty even-tempered guy…unfortunately this was not one of those times.    

As nice as I could be, this lady would not budge.  So then I did what any rational person would do…I emailed the superintendent and copied her on the email.  It was a lovely email about the importance of diplomatic relations, helping make a child’s dream come true, what a great experience this would be for the students of our local high school & community and how all that may be lost because one individual didn’t want to be bothered with some extra work…it really was a brilliant lesson in passive aggressive behavior.    

Needless to say it worked.  I got a call from Axelle’s agency, saying they would accept Axelle in our local high school, but we would have to go to the district office the first morning of school to complete her paperwork file and then go to school to get her registered.  He also indicated that the school representative requested that I not call or email her again and he said that I may not want to include her on my Christmas card list…awesome I’m making friends and taking names.    

Axelle arrived and we weren’t sure what to think on our way to pick her up from the airport.  What was she going to be like, would she like us, would we even be able to communicate?  I learned two phrases on the way to the airport…How are you? (Comment allez-vous) and How was your flight? (Comment a été votre vol?) And then all of the sudden I had a huge fear…what if she’s a vegetarian?!  Needless to say, she is not a vegetarian.  In fact she is the furthest thing from it, she wont eat any vegetables or fruit…she makes me crave a salad.    

The first day of school arrived, and we headed off to the district office to take care of the rest of the paperwork.  I had everything ready to go, but was not prepared when the individual I had spoken to on the phone turned out to be the one that would need to help us.  Talk about having to swallow your pride and play nice.  After a few hours there, we finally got approval from the principal and headed over to the school.  The first kid I see is a 6’5 Albino kid wearing a long black trench coat and cat eye contact lenses…seriously?! I told Axelle she probably wouldn’t be friends with him.  After having to convince the guidance counselor that AP classes wouldn’t be the best fit for Axelle on account that English was her second language and she didn’t plan on going to college in the US, we got a schedule set up, and I sent her on her way to classes…she was calm, cool and collected and I was a nervous wreck.    

Teaching Axelle The Thanksgiving Tradition

I spent the next few weeks walking her to the bus stop ( let’s be honest, I would have killed my parents if they had ever done that with me), which I finally decided probably was not that cool.  But there is nothing like going from zero kids to a teenager over night. 

Today is Axelle’s last day of school, and I can’t believe that the time has gone by so quickly.  We have been so lucky, because Axelle is such an amazing person and we have enjoyed getting to know her, teach her a few things along the way (like how Pearl Jam is the greatest rock band of all time, cool lingo like “that’s how I roll” & “Axelle is in the hizzie, and Jenn’s favorite…the joy of using coupons) all while learning so much from her.     

As we begin to prepare to start saying “au revoir” to Axelle over the next few days, I do know that we will continue to stay in contact with her, and can’t wait to watch her as she becomes an adult.  In sixteen years, when she is old like us, we’ll send Nolin over to France to live with his big sister for a year.  Axelle…Nous vous remercions de faire partie de notre famille moderne!    

Notre fille a préféré des Français

4 Thoughts

  1. Thanks for this really sweet and long post ! It has been a fun year and i love America more than i used to because of you 🙂 You have been awesome parents,always here for me and Nolin is Lucky to have you!
    I Hope you come visit me in France and send Nolin for a year ( i will be Old enough to take care of him) .

  2. No mention of getting to meet Papa Noel? Let’s be honest that was her favorite part of being here. And how about the fact that Nolin is lucky he didn’t get named Pancake Jr. after the dog and the stuffed bear?
    Axelle has been a great addition to the entire O’Brien family and we will all miss her!

  3. Patrick and Jenn……please give Axelle our best wishes and let her know that we have soooooo enjoyed getting to know her! our best wishes to Axelle….you were aweseome for the USA! Linda & Les Lilley

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