Monday, 20 August 2007

Agoraphobia and Austrian Students

Our home is always only partly decorated, and it's Marie's fault.

I'll come home one day and the wallpaper in one room will be partly missing. "I've decided to redecorate this room," Marie will tell me. "It's really old-fashioned (done 2 years ago). I want something trendy." Then she'll spend the next week on the internet looking at colour schemes. Home improvement magazines will appear to be breeding in the living room. Bits of redundant wallpaper will appear in all the other rooms while the job is in progress. I will be dispatched to the nearest DIY shop for sample pots of paint. These will be painted onto the walls in imperfect squares, like some kind of mad tartan design. We'll all be standing in the middle of the room, casting a critical eye over the wall of sample paint colours. "That's definitely too dark." "That's much too light." "...too yellowy." "...too much green...
" "Oh my god - that's gross!" "I'm not having that!" And more of the same. I'll be dispatched to the DIY shop for another batch of sample pots of paint, and the whole behaviour pattern will be repeated...several time
s...for several months...

So it came as a big surprise when, out of the blue, Marie announced that she wanted to host some students attending summer school learning English. Apparently the organisers needed more host families.
...In six day's time! The students, who would be from Italy or Austria, would be out most of the time, having English lessons or going on trips to sample "typical" English pursuits. Being an agoraphobic in a host family would not be a disadvantage. Now that Sharyl had become a "safe" person, I could, when necessary, provide chauffeuring services or go out to get some forgotten item.

We had a week to turn our home, which resembled a cross between a decorator's store and a furniture removal company's storage facility, into a suitable temporary residence for a couple of pubescent females. (Marie wanted only girls.) And it was a week when I was unusually busy at work. Then we decided that the nice, newly decorated (mostly completed) room which Marie had picked for the girls would not be practical, so they would have to go into the bedroom with the oldest decor and a carpet which needed replaced (as well as being quite old, our cat had scratched a hole in it)...

Six days later, with the house in barely serviceable condition, our Agnes and Alice arrived. Both of the girls live in the same street, so they knew each other well. Agnes spoke very good English and Alice, who was a year her junior, spoke quite good English too. Aware of Agnes's better grasp of English Alice chose mostly not to speak unless spoken to, which seemed a shame. Both girls were very well behaved, polite, clean, punctual - the perfect guests - but over the next two weeks the hoped-for bonding between them and us didn't happen, despite Marie's best efforts - and she rarely has problems getting on with just about anybody. The girls, particularly Agnes, did have a giggle when we were at the dinner table. Sometimes Alice would open up and show us that she has a great sense of humour. But they spent a lot of time in their (not very attractive) room and kept our family at arm's length. Perhaps it was our fault; after all, we were host family newbies. Or perhaps the girls weren't used to living in such a busy environment, lots of people living together, often noisy with two very young children and many visiting family relations. Or maybe they just preferred their privacy. Who knows? Later, we found out that our experience was quite normal and it's not uncommon for Austrian students to spend lots of time in their room.

Marie's agoraphobia did not cause any problems. She miSsed out on a few things, of course - I had to take the girls out on an afternoon trip by myself (accompanied by Joe and Orla, of course); we couldn't go to a karaoke evening in the local pub because it is inaccessible to Marie; I had to meet the girls on arrival and escort them by myself to the departure point.

After a week's break, and with or home in slightly better order, the second pair of students arrived - Julia & Anna. They were a year older than our previous guests, more outgoing and more mature. This time the girls mixed with us more. We had longer conversations. Like their predessessors, they were helpful and polite. Julia was quite tuned in to he internet and borrowed a laptop most evenings (Anna used it too, but less). Marie could relate to this and showed her around some of the sites she visits regularly. They now have each other's MSN details and I expect that they'll be chatting online in due course. Anna played the piano and wasn't too embarrassed to play to us. She is being taught classical music, but doesn't want to be a concert pianist, so I told her how I have used my piano playing skills in rock bands, theatre, and helping out at our local schools, etc. She expressed an interest in learning about other styles of piano playing, so I showed her how to play basic Boogie-Woogie, some Jazz teqniques and how to play "by ear" - i.e. to play just about any tune by listening to it carefully and working out the melody and accompaniment. She has real musical ability and will be able to adapt without much effort.

Again, agoraphobia caused no problems. But I think the success of being a host parent has raised Marie's self-esteem, and she is working on reducing her agoraphobia more than she has been recently.

And the room that our student guests used...the one that hasn't been decorated recently (two years ago) and needs a new carpet...guess what Marie's next project is? Yes, you've got it. I'm expecting to come home and find a mound of home-improvement magazines, a pile of paint colour charts and a couple of dozen carpet samples any day now!


Teri said...

Nice Blog :)

Robert said...

Thanks for visiting, Teri. Come back soon!