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Jules…the exchange that changed our lives

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A year as our daughter in Gilpin

By Cary Ihme

The Beginning

It was a hot July day in the summer of 2012. Tom walked into the house and said “I’ve been thinking.” When something like that comes out of his mouth, it usually means he is dreaming about his next career move or a high dollar purchase. The next words that came out of his mouth threw me for a loop. “I’ve been thinking we should get an exchange student.” My first thought was “really?” I had made that same statement to him the year before, but it was met with resistance. “There is a reason we didn’t have kids” was the response I received back then. This time it was different because now it was his idea. I told him it was a great one of course. We talked about it briefly and that was the extent of the conversation, so I didn’t think it was something that was actually going to happen. After all, school was starting soon. We were out of time.

A week and a half later, on Monday, August 6th, I received an email from a coordinator with International Experience. They were inquiring about our interest in an exchange student because our friends had given them our names. They gave me a login and told me to check out the applications online. Once that happened I asked Tom whether we were really going to do this, to which he agreed. I immediately started the application process. By Tuesday, we had selected a student. By Thursday, I had completed the application process. On Sunday, we were told our student would be arriving on Thursday, August 16th. Who knew you could get a mail ordered child in such a short amount of time? It was like a whirlwind. Little did we know our lives were about to change forever.

Who’s That Girl?

Julia Schmunk. That is her name. We call her Jules. A cute little blonde haired, blue eyed, German girl walked through the international doors at DIA and into our lives. Bayley Maltas and Katura Sales went with us to the airport to help welcome her to the USA. We were hoping this would give her a familiar face to turn to when she started school because she had already missed the first week.

Watching Her Grow

We attend many of the sporting events at the school to cheer on the Eagles, so we thought it would be cool to have our own kid to cheer for. Jules had never played volleyball, basketball or cheered, but with us she did all three. Cheering proved to be easiest for her because she had a dance background. I was surprised to see how quickly she picked up all of the cheers. She was certainly a natural. Volleyball and basketball were harder for her, but by the end of each season it was fascinating to see how much improvement she had made in each sport. You never would have believed it was the same kid.

I was most impressed with how much her English improved after the first two weeks. There were a few instances where we had to use Google translate on my smartphone to communicate, but other than that, the language barrier was easy to overcome. This kid is smart, has a great personality and was ready to try anything. She started to win us over.

Becoming Part of the Family

I was frequently asked if it was weird having another person occupying my living space day in and day out. It has never has been. The fact that it has been so natural having her around all the time is the part that is weird. There has not been one single day in the eleven months we have had her that has ever been uncomfortable. We found ourselves wondering how this could happen. It’s as if she really is our biological child.

They say your children will start picking up your mannerisms, behaviors and other personality traits. It was funny, yet strange to see this teenager morphing into pieces of both of us. She started picking up random things I say all the time, but never realized. She quickly picked up on Tom’s smart mouth and come backs. As soon as she started dishing it right back to him, I knew we had found the right kid. Not just anybody can hang with the Ihme’s.

People would say we had the same smile or the same nose or the same freckles. We just laughed, but it was true. They say after a while you start to look like your pet. Maybe that was what happened here.

Our family quickly embraced this kid as part of the family. The love, acceptance and adoration was heartwarming. It’s as if she had us all under her spell.

Making Friends

Her spell was infectious and soon spilled over to our friends, their kids, and kids at the school. One of the things I love most about living in this community is the people and how accepting and inclusive they can be.

The Experiences

Looking back on the year, I realize how many things we were able to do with Jules. Attending sporting events such as the Broncos, Buffs, Rockies and Avs was fun. The neatest part was watching her experience it for the first time.

We traveled to several different States. She was able to see Colorado, Kansas, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

We saw Shania Twain in Las Vegas, and attended a concert at Red Rocks.

We had several family BBQ’s, birthday parties and gatherings with friends.

She experienced her first Thanksgiving and attended two American weddings. Unfortunately, she also experienced two American funerals.

She tried different foods, was crowned homecoming princess, learned how to knee board, did a full day photo shoot, rode on motorcycle, hiked mountains, volunteered, fed a giraffe, and so much more.

We learned how to be parents and got a taste of how much work it is to be one, yet experience the rewards. We have a new level of respect for all parents.

Saying Goodbye

If you didn’t have the opportunity to meet Jules, you certainly missed out. It’s hard to believe that we are going to have to say goodbye to this amazingly wonderful girl this week. She is beautiful inside and out. We hope she will take the good pieces of us and use what she has learned in the United States to help mold the rest of her life. We are so fortunate to live in a country that affords us the freedom and ability to experience what we have over the past year. Words cannot express how hard it will be to let our girl go.

Have you ever loved someone so much it hurts?

Second Chance

As I sit here thinking about our final day,

I realize there are so many things I want to say.

Fighting back emotions is the hardest thing to do,

Because I’m not really sure you know how much we love you.

You came into our lives in record time,

And for you there is no mountain we wouldn’t climb.

Every parent dreams of having a perfect child,

And the fact that we were blessed with one is amazing and wild.

You fit right in with our family just like a glove,

Fate brought us together and we thank heaven above.

This wonderful experience has changed our lives forever,

We will hold you in our hearts and forget you never.

We never did tell you that you were our second pick,

Thank God, to dogs, that first girl was allergic.

That wasn’t going to work so we gave your application a glance,

We’ll never take for granted that you were our second chance.

Thank you Irina and Viktor Schmunk for sharing your beautiful daughter with us. We love you Jules!

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