Never Lose Your Altruistic Spirit

There is a saying that goes “no good deed goes unpunished.” And, most days, it feels very, very true. Sometimes it just feels like you always try to do the right thing and try to help people as much as you can, but it somehow just ends up feeling like you’re the “bad guy,” and in the end, you’re being punished for your altruistic spirit. 

My mom and I recently let a couple of foreign students into our home, into our family. We were excited. Over the summer months leading up to their arrival, my mother and I spent time finding fun and unique treasures to decorate their room with, wanting it to be something special, a place where they truly felt at home. When my mother’s friends would come over to her house, they would take a peek at some of the latest treasures we had collected and see the progress of the room. Each and every time, her friends, with glee in their eyes, would say how marvelous the room looked, assuring us that the students would absolutely adore it. 

My mom spent the summer talking to the students that she would house, attempting to get to know them a little better. My mother was thrilled for this new adventure and to receive the opportunity to look after these students. 

When I was in high school, all of my friends used to call my mother “mom.” She would support and care for them just as much as she would me. And I was fine with sharing my mom, especially when I knew that some of my friends needed my mom as much as I did. My mom worked in education for nearly 20 years, supporting students in the special education department and introducing ground-breaking programs to enrich the lives of the students and families she served. My mom always positively impacted the lives of the children around her, and I knew she would accomplish nothing less with the students she would host. 

The day finally came when both of the students arrived and were finally under my mom’s roof. Worried about if she would be able to tackle more than one student, I promised my mom that I would assist her in a way that I could. 

The first weeks were very busy, with hectic schedules, but nonetheless, we pushed through. My mother was starting up her new job, and so to help, I took over the “host mom” role for the entire week before school started. Every day I would get up early and take one of the students to their sports practice. Then I would head back to the house, make breakfast for the other student and wait until I had to go and pick up the one student from the school. Later that day, I would make dinner and feed the students before taking the other student to practice. There was also the task of my mother and I getting them their school schedules, me taking them to get their school books, and racing them across town to get their school pictures done. 

As school started, we finally we able to set into more of a routine, and life became (somewhat) less hectic. 

But then things started to go downhill fast. 

I wish I could point to exactly what the root of the problem was, but even I cannot put my finger on it. 

Despite our attempts to take the students wherever they needed to go, take care of what they needed to get done, and support them in everything, including going to their games and making signs to cheer them on, it never seemed like enough. 

Even though we did so many things for our students, it seemed like we, especially my mom, was never thanked for anything. My mom began to confide in me that she merely felt like she was being treated as a taxi service, and nothing more. 

I remember one night, after a long day of work, one of the students wanted to go to a church dance with some of the kids from school, and my mom, as tired as she was, agreed to drive the student all the way across town — a nearly 25 minute drive — so the student could partake in a fun event. When we arrived at the church, the student refused to get out of the car since their friends had not yet arrived. However, when it came to the students’ attention that an acquaintance was at the dance, and that the acquaintance agreed, over the phone, to come out and greet the student, our student thanked their acquaintance profusely for meeting them. Without saying a word, the student exited my mother’s car and walked away. We were hurt that someone that our student barely knew received a thank you for a simple favor, but that the student did not even utter a word of appreciation to my mom for driving all the way across town for this dance. 

This same student also mistreated my mother’s precious dog. When my mother had first talked with this student over video chat and showed the student her dog, the student seemed excited and remarked that they liked dogs very much. However, we soon came to find out that they, in fact, did not like dogs and treated my mother’s dog very, very poorly. The other student was originally very keen of my mother’s dog, but upon finding that their fellow exchange student was simply bothered by the dog’s presence, began to become more aloof and simply shrugged the dog aside. 

The students also had a terrible sense of entitlement, and would often complain when the internet in my mother’s house was not working on their devices, because they didn’t want to be forced to use and “waste” their phones’ data plans. 

Then there was the incessant lying — lying about simple things, like eating the cookies or snacks my mom had provided. One night, my mom found her dog going through the chocolate cookies in the kitchen, and she rushed to grab her dog and found only one chocolate cookie remaining in the package. Unsure of how many chocolate cookies her dog had consumed, my mom rushed to her students’ room to ask how many of the cookies had been eaten before my mom had to rush her dog to the pet hospital. The student lied, saying that they had barely had any of the cookies before admitting that they had eaten all but one cookie after my mom had pressed, saying her dog could become gravely ill. 

The one student had even lied and said that we did not acknowledge their birthday or say anything to them, when, in fact, we had booked an escape room for them and their friends, and had decorated my mother’s house and had pizza and cake for them. In the end, the student partially retracted the lie, saying they would have rather had us say “happy birthday” than throw them a birthday party. We had, however, said “happy birthday” multiple times throughout the day to the student. 

There were problems with grades and the students refusing to “check in, check out” as my mother had requested just to ensure their safety — so she always knew where to look if she hadn’t heard from them in a while. 

Then there was the ultimate blow — my mom had found out that one of the students had been talking badly about her in the community and had been trying to recruit another host family to take them in. 

Despite having multiple talks with the students, and even bringing in one of the program coordinators to resolve the issue, the problems persisted. 

The true breaking point was when the two students requested to be driven out of town to attend a birthday party of one of the student’s sister’s friends. The one student’s sister had previously studied here in the United States. We stopped along the way from my mother and I to get our hair cut, and the two students sat in the back of the beauty salon, whispering to each other and being rude. My mother’s and my hairdresser commented on how their behavior was rude, and we agreed. The two students then requested, not asked, my mother if they could wander off to go to an ice cream place a few blocks away. My mother reluctantly agreed, but asked that they message her when they got to the ice cream place and when they were headed back so she need not worry. 

After not hearing from the students for a while, my mother sent a message to only find out that the two students were almost back to the salon. 

Once the hair appointment was over, and since the two students still had time before they needed to be at their destination, we walked around and stopped into two shops. The two students didn’t walk around with us, and when they were around us, they were whispering mean comments directed towards us. 

Before leaving the last store, however, one of our students said she had messaged her parents and her parents agreed that she should buy this one item for the family that they would be staying the weekend with, since the family hosted the student’s sister the year before. When my mom remarked how the picture had a biblical quote on it, the other student remarked, in a rather harsh tone, that the family was Christian. My mother and I were confused about how the comment was meant to be intended, particularly when both students themselves admitted that they did not attend church. 

After leaving the stores and finishing the journey to get the students to this party and the house they would be staying the night in, the students, as they entered the house, did not utter a single word to my mom for driving the distance to get them there. 

After we had picked up the students the following day, it hurt me to see the students embrace each member of the family that hosted them for the weekend and thank them profusely for everything. On the car ride home, the car was silent, as the students refused to speak with us and only whispered to each other or merely played around on their phones. 

When we got back to my mother’s house, we had a talk with the students about some of the comments made and their behavior. I had also remarked about how I had been silent up until this point about how the students had mistreated my mother, but I would be silent no more. I told the students that it hurt me to see how the one bought a gift for a family that had barely done anything for them, and yet, despite my mother taking care of them for more than two months already, had never made any sort of kind gesture. Not that my mother would ever expect or demand a gift, but a simple kind word would suffice. Which lead to my statement of how, despite driving over 2 hours and 40 minutes in total to get the students to and from this party out of town, they had not even said “thank you” to my mom. And by the end of the meeting, they still had not apologized for their behavior, or said “thank you.” 

The one student who had previously been looking for another host home, however, decided to leave my mother’s home and look for a new one. 

When that student was going to relocate to another home temporarily until they found a new one, the other student wanted to go, too, so that they could spend more time together until they were officially separated. My mother, however, said no, because she felt the students needed the time to readjust into their new settings and that she wanted the time to rekindle the relationship between her and the student that was remaining. 

The following day, however, the other student ended up backing their bag and leaving with the other student as well.

We came to find that the two students told the foreign exchange company that my mother had mistreated them, and that they had described it as nearly abuse. 

I was there at my mother’s house quite often, trying to help her with the students, and I can honestly say that this was not the case. My mother had been kind to them, treating them as how she would treat my sister and me, with care and love; only being firm when the students had refused to do their chores, as they always did, or made rude comments, such as how they hated America and thought the country and its citizens were “stupid.” 

My mother did not deserve this or the accusations they made. 

One night, while out to dinner with my mom, she watched a video of a foreign student who had returned to visit their host family from the year before, with the young children of the family running and jumping into the arms of their previous foreign exchange sibling. The exchange student and the family embraced, thankful to be reunited once again. 

My mother, melancholy and disappointed by how her efforts seemed for nothing, said the video made her sad, that she would never get that — the foreign exchange student happy to return to the embrace of their host family. 

I felt sad for my mom. I felt sad for us. That we had tried so hard, and it all seemed for nothing. That nothing we did was ever right. That these students were okay with lying about us and hurting us. 

I felt like we had tried to do a good thing, but that we were being punished for it. As I said previously, no good deed goes unpunished. 

But then I thought about all of the volunteering and giving that my mother and I have done in our community, along with a recent article I wrote about the importance of giving back, and it made me realize that these students, despite doing us wrong, should not negatively impact my or my mother’s altruistic spirit. We should not let the hurt stop us from continuing to try to do good for those in our lives, our community, and in this world. 

We should not let the meanness of others turn our hearts cold and our souls bitter. 

If we let the bitterness seep in and take control every time we got hurt when trying to do good by others, no one in this world would ever try to do something good for someone else ever again. And where would that get us?

Like I wrote in another one of my articles once — we need to be better, not bitter. 

And so, I have decided that I will not let this get to me. I will brush my knees off and stand up, and continue trying my best to make this world a better place. 

In the end, we tried our best. Obviously our best was not good enough for these two students. But that is their loss, not ours. And that is something that they will have to come to terms with. 

But as for us, we can hold our heads up high and say that we did our good deed. And we will not be punished for it. We will not be hurt. 

Instead, we will walk forward, heads held high, ready to keep on helping, to keep on loving, to keep on embracing, to keep on trying our best to do good for others. Because we will never lose our altruistic spirit. 

Emily Veith

Emily has her bachelor's degree in Political Science, and has always believed in helping and serving others. She wants to make the world a better place, and aspires to be a politician someday to do just that. She is an old soul who loves Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Glenn Miller. When she isn't writing about imperative news- and political-related, she can be found attempting new recipes, playing her guitar or reading a good mystery book.

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