I will never forget the moment I first saw Aleksandra in her orphanage in 2007. While her bright smile and auburn hair were the first things I noticed, it didn’t take long to sense there was a special light inside her. One of the amazing things about God is how and when He connects our stories. I never knew the prayers Aleksandra whispered as a young girl, and she had no idea how my prayers led me to her orphanage doors that day. Aleksandra was just 15 years old when she got on an airplane for the very first time. She was not scared to fly; she was excited. She had been chosen for hosting and was leaving her orphanage in Latvia to stay with a family in the United States for the holidays. Twelve years have passed since that day, and Aleksandra and I recently met up to discuss her experiences and catch up on where life has taken her. Both of us hope, in sharing her story, you won’t pass up the opportunity to show a child love. Even one month of hosting can change a child’s life.
Michelle: Do you remember being interviewed for hosting?
Aleksandra: Absolutely, I remember talking and making a connection with you. In fact, when they told me I was going for hosting, I thought it was to your house. Later, I found out I was originally supposed to travel to a host family in California, but an unexpected surgery meant the family could no longer host. Friends of my parents were hosting and shared with them about the last-minute need for a backup family. If my parents hadn’t said yes, I would have aged out, they wouldn’t be my family and my life would look very different today.
Michelle: What surprised you most about that first American Christmas?
Aleksandra: How common it was for people to celebrate by giving gifts. It seemed everyone, young and old, had a shopping list. Literally everyone got a present. If you visited another family’s home, you would see a pile of presents. That was a shock and surprise to me.
Michelle: How was your host family experience?
Aleksandra: My parents and siblings were all nice and loving towards me. I was closest with my younger brother and the baby, who had just been adopted from China. With my oldest brother, it was harder, simply because he was older too. But, truthfully, flying to live with strangers and them telling you what to do—well, it’s uncomfortable for any teenager. Not because they did anything wrong. I simply wasn’t used to a family environment. Following new rules, doing chores, these were new expectations that just felt a bit weird for me because it wasn’t my life at the orphanage. Having siblings wasn’t as big of a shock because I was used to sharing and being around other children.
Michelle: What else surprised you during hosting?
Aleksandra: Going out for fast food was so different. That was a first for me. Also, maybe because it was Christmas, there were candy and sweets everywhere. I gained weight over hosting because there was always something to snack on in the pantry, but it was awesome .
Michelle: What made you most afraid or nervous during hosting?
Aleksandra: I was nervous doing laundry. When I lived in the orphanage, there were ladies who did laundry for us. Once here, I just washed my things in the bathtub or in the sink. I remember my mom cried because she felt bad that I was hand-washing my things. In my mind, it was just the quickest thing for me to do. My mom wanted to do my laundry, but giving up my personal belongings to a stranger, albeit one who wanted to help, was uncomfortable for me.
Michelle: What did you think when it was time to return home?
Aleksandra: I just went back to school and back to normal activities without much interruption. I do remember my parents had packed some gifts for me to take back to friends. When I started handing those out, some girls became really jealous. Their attitude was like, you went to America and all you brought me back was a pair of earrings? It was surreal that my friends expected more from me, someone who had nothing to offer them but friendship just a few weeks earlier.
Michelle: What did you think when you heard about the possibility of adoption?
Aleksandra: When I was young, I thought living in an orphanage was the best thing ever. I got to play with lots of other children and there were toys. After a while, I was done playing and just wanted to go home. Either I would get into trouble with the teachers or something else would remind me the orphanage wasn’t my home. There was a nun from the Catholic church nearby who started taking some of the children to church with her. I was able to go a few times and remember praying, when I was 8 or 9 years old, that I didn’t want to be in the orphanage any longer and asked God to please take me away. At 15, when I first heard I had the opportunity to visit America for hosting, I thought, ‘Sure I’ll go and hang out for a month.’ But, when I heard this family wanted to adopt me, I remembered my prayer. I wondered if this could be the answer so many years later. Could I finally leave the orphanage? I was a teenager and thought I had my life figured since I had friends and could go and come as I pleased. I did wonder, do I really need to do this? Do I need strangers telling me what to do? Deep down, I knew I had no future, nowhere to go when I aged out, was failing my classes, wasn’t going to school and didn’t care about myself very much. Here was a chance to let a family take care of me. I knew I had to make a grown-up decision to change my life and let God take me on the journey. My prayer had finally been answered.
Michelle: What do host kids need most from their host families?
Aleksandra: The host child and family are living different lives and it can feel hard to relate, but we all have something in common—the desire to feel loved. Show them love and who you truly are as a family. Many host children don’t expect much and don’t really know what they are walking into. Don’t overdo it; just make hosting a normal kid environment. I don’t suggest doing over-the-top things because they will think that your daily life is a dream. Whatever you do, incorporate them into your normal routine. One of the things I still remember from hosting was going to school with mom (who was a teacher) and sitting in her classroom listening to other children learn Spanish. That was fun for me during hosting.
Michelle: How has your life changed since being hosted?
Aleksandra: I was adopted by my wonderful family, graduated Kings Academy and then Kennesaw State University. I’m married, have an 18-month-old son and I’m working as a tax accountant for the third year. My husband speaks Spanish and I still speak Russian, so we are trying to teach our son three languages. We were planning to visit Latvia in May, but travel restrictions (due to COVID-19) has delayed those plans. I know my orphanage was closed and consolidated with another and I hear several areas of the city have been renovated, but I hope to show my husband where I’m from and visit both my grandmothers’ gravesites.
Michelle: If a family is considering hosting, what would you say to encourage them?
Aleksandra: I was given the chance, so I feel it’s the right thing to do. If you know a child is in need, we are called to help. Granted, hosting a 15-year-old from another country is different than parenting a 15-year-old here in America because they have experienced a much different life. There are cultural differences. They may be reserved and it can be hard for them to make adjustments during the time frame of hosting. But, yes, you should get to know a child and commit to influence his or her life for the better, no matter the length of time you may have to do that.