By Jennifer Partridge
Four years ago, my freshman came home from school one September day and proclaimed that we needed to host an exchange student. What? This had never crossed our minds! The Exchange Student Coordinator had come into his Spanish class and shown a picture of a girl from Spain who was already here in Provo but still needed a host family. Mar joined our family a couple of weeks later and we had an amazing school year together. She learned about Utah’s love for ice cream and the beauty of our National Parks. We learned that in her region of Spain they speak Catalan more than Spanish and celebrate Christmas with Tio, a log that “poops” presents!
We enjoyed having Mar in our home so much that we have since hosted two other exchange students. One of the many things I love about welcoming students from other countries into our home is the opportunity we have had to learn from each of them. Each of our new “daughters” has come from different cultures, family situations, and with their own unique personalities and perspectives. Our family has learned firsthand that when you make the effort to get to know someone of a different background, your whole world expands. We have learned from them, and they from us. We have not always agreed, but we have found joy in learning new perspectives and focusing on the many things we can build upon.
When Mar returned to visit us last summer, I just had to ask her about her new tattoo. As you can see in this picture, it has two eyes, with a 6 in the middle. Or is it a 9? When Mar’s arm is down and you are standing behind her, it is a 9. When she bends her elbow to put her hand near her mouth and you are in front of her, it is a 6. She designed this tattoo to show that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently -- it all depends on your perspective. You say it’s a 9 and I say it’s a 6. Neither of us is incorrect. I love this message! Every individual has a unique perspective, made from their own particular life experiences. My perspective is not any more “right” than yours. When we stop trying to be right and start trying to understand other viewpoints, our lives are enhanced with more joy, fulfillment, and connection.
How can we learn better from one another? How can we recognize that our perspective is not the only one? Just like with our exchange students, it takes a willingness and desire to step outside of ourselves. Our students who had the best experience here were those who were the most open to trying new adventures, meeting new people, and learning all they could about this new environment. Instead of sitting in their bedroom, connecting only to the friends and family back home that they were comfortable with, they took a chance and made the effort to expand their horizons.
This same principle applies to each of us in our own communities. We are surrounded by such a beautiful variety of people. Sometimes that diversity is noticeable, with people from different cultural or religious backgrounds, for example. Other times, the variety is less obvious. We can approach our neighbors, literally and figuratively, with love in our hearts and with the desire to truly know and understand them. Everyone has a story to tell. As you sincerely listen, what you learn will add to your own story and enhance your perspective.
Jennifer Partridge is a wife and mom to 3 boys and 1 girl, ages 11-18. She also loves being the “American Mom” to three exchange student daughters, who she keeps in touch with regularly. Jennifer currently serves on the Provo School District Board of Education and helped bring the kindness initiative to our schools six years ago when she was serving as the district PTA president. She loves chocolate, Disneyland, date nights at all of the amazing Provo restaurants, working out, and traveling.
We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please remember: Share appreciation and positivity, give others the benefit of the doubt, & share your own experiences without assuming intentions of others.