Saying goodbye — again

And suddenly it’s over.

That’s the problem with hosting exchange students. One minute they’re a part of your family and you’re joking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company, and then they’re on a plane to far-away lands, your family suddenly smaller, your home quieter.

We said goodbye to Daniel this week. He’s winging his way back to Austria with father Wolfgang and mother Herta as most of our readers peruse their Chronicle on this Thursday. Just Tuesday evening we were enjoying a back-yard get-together with Daniel’s high school friends – and loving Wolfgang’s goulash – after a wonderful church gathering Monday night at Bob and Elsie Martens’ farm. Everyone was happy as we enjoyed good company and Daniel’s lighthearted spirit – and now he’s gone.

This life isn’t for everyone. We have said goodbye, now, to Sophie, Kahlinda, Larissa, Maria and Daniel. But while there is a great sadness in our hearts every time one of our new kids goes home, we also know that our lives have become far richer for the experience and that we have great friends and an extended family around the world – literally.

Sophie, our first, is truly like an older sister to our daughter Danielle and a second daughter to Susan and I. She has twice come back to visit her second home from her native Berlin. Sophie’s loving heart is full of affection for her Lovell family and the community and nation she got to know, even though she was here for only one high school semester.

We miss the humor and fun-loving spirit our second “exchange daughter” – Kahlinda from Australia — though we hear from her less often. She also made many friends during her year in Wyoming.

Larissa from Karlsruhe, Germany, got “up to speed” as a member of our family and as a student at LHS faster than any of our other exchange daughters with her outgoing personality and fun-loving nature. I don’t think I’ve ever met a friendlier young woman, and she truly loved her Wyoming experience. Like Sophie, Larissa is truly like a daughter to us, and her father, Klaus, is like my German brother. We communicate often.

Maria is Danielle’s twin, almost as if they were separated at birth, and Dani will be living with Maria when she studies in Berlin for her junior year of college. They share a special bond.

And now Daniel.

How do you properly say goodbye to the only son you’ve ever had? He’s not my son by birth, but he’s been my steady companion for the last 10½ months, joining me on hikes and road trips, at ballgames and in many, many interesting discussions. More than any of our exchange kids, he spent time directly with Susan and I, preferring to “hang out” in the living room rather than in his bedroom.

Since I recently obtained Blu-Ray DVDs of the original, “classic” Star Trek episodes, Daniel patiently watched many of the episodes with me and got to know Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy and other characters. We laughed together at the corny moments – like Captain Kirk jumping and pushing off a corridor wall during a fight, then stabbing his assailant as the alien adjusted his tunic.

And don’t forget the Plan 9 salute. (Watch the movie. You’ll understand.)

Daniel has made an impact at Lovell High School, as well, excelling for the speech team in student congress and competing on the golf team. Teachers and his many friends will miss his lively personality and good nature.

And now he’s heading back home with his parents, who have been visiting and enjoying Wyoming for the past week and a half. Getting to know Wolfgang and Herta has been a joy, and seeing their great affection for Daniel, Susan and I wonder how they could possibly be away from him for all that time – and yet we will say goodbye to our Danielle in August for about eight months, so we will understand.

We now have two daughters in Berlin, one in Karlsruhe, Germany, one in Australia, and an exchange son in Salzburg, Austria. We love them all, and we miss them. But we are glad they joined our family for a little while.

Daniel may be our last. We want to focus on our darling Danielle and be free to travel to visit her on her life’s journey. But I would encourage others to take up the baton. Having an exchange student is truly a great experience – even if it is hard to say goodbye.

By David Peck

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