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Family & Relationships

How We Filled Our Empty Nest and Gained an International Family

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When Carol Ryder and Randy Rieland head on their three-week vacation to Italy in August, they’ll be visiting all of the kids who make up their new extended family.

That includes Giuliano, Chiara, Camilla and Alice (pronounced A-lee-che).

Those four Italians aren’t related to Carol and Randy by blood or marriage. There are no ties of adoption or foster parenthood. Instead, over the last few years, each has lived in the couple’s Washington, D.C., home for several months while completing an internship at the nearby Italian Embassy.

It has been, says Carol, an incredibly enriching experience. “To have these people in our lives has only been a positive thing,” she says. “Randy feels the same way.”

It has also been a comfortable way of feathering the empty nest that their son Ben, now 26, left behind. “These kids confide in me, sometimes even more than my own son does,” Carol says. “It very much satisfies a maternal need. And the added income is welcome, too.”

The unplanned expansion of their family began in the spring of 2016 when a woman posted on a neighborhood social network that she’d had a flood in one of the apartments she rented. Her tenant, a 26-year-old physician from South Korea who was studying for his U.S. medical license at Georgetown University, needed a place to stay for the next six weeks.

“We’d renovated Ben’s old room a few years earlier, so even though we had some trepidation, we thought, ‘why not give this a try?’” Carol says. They never imagined, she said, that they’d become as attached to Jaehong as they did. And, for his part, Jaehong, who was deathly afraid of dogs when he met Maz, the family mutt, never imagined that he’d become a dog lover. “He could have lived at the university by himself but he wanted to live with an American family, so he took the leap,” she says.

Even after Jaehong’s apartment was repaired and he moved back in, he kept in close touch with Carol and Randy, going over to their home two or three times a week as he was studying for his oral exams to polish his English and bedside manner. “I helped him Americanize some of his speech,” Carol says. “For example, I told him, no, it is never polite to say to a patient, ‘where are you getting fat?’”

When Jaehong’s parents were in town before he headed back to South Korea, Carol and Randy had them over for brunch. “It was a very emotional and poignant moment,” Carol says. “We all cried. Jaehong’s parents were grateful for the care and attention we’d showed their son and we were grateful to have him in our lives.”

Since then, through a friend who works at the Italian Embassy, all of Carol and Randy’s boarders have been from Italy. The Italian guests have cooked their hosts pumpkin risotto and vats of pasta, while Carol and Randy have made pancake breakfasts and invited them to Thanksgiving feasts. “They’re part of our family,” Carol says.

Next month “the kids” will be showing their American mom and dad their home country. They’ll be staying with Camilla’s family in Tuscany (“her grandmother is already thinking about what she wants to cook for us,” Carol says), visiting with Alice in Milan, driving to Sicily with Chiara where they’ll spend a few days at the family home of Giuliano’s girlfriend.

“We can’t wait to see everyone,” Carol says. “Our lives have gotten fuller in ways we never imagined when we began this experiment and we plan to keep opening our home to our future sons and daughters.”

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