Meet The Pankewich Family - United Studies Host Family Spotlight

13 July 2020

For host mom Stephanie, it's watching her children bond with their exchange siblings in simple ways that makes hosting exchange students so rewarding.

When and how did you begin hosting exchange students?  

We hosted our first exchange student in 2014/2015.  Stephanie hosted a student in high school and was also able to go on a week exchange while in high school.  Our family loves learning about the world and this was the easiest way to bring the world to my young children.

How many exchange students have you hosted?

Our family has hosted 3 students.  We have had Moni from Spain, Bea from Spain, and Gustavo from Brazil. 

Why do you enjoy hosting exchange students?

Hosting exchange students helps to explain culture to my children in a way that text books never will be able.  It makes them realize that their world should not only focus on the immediate circle that surrounds them, but instead helps to prepare them to think more globally.  I also love having my children learn about different languages to develop an acceptance of others when they might hear people in public speaking another language.  A bonus is getting to open their minds to trying new foods that are now fun because their sibling made the food in their kitchen instead of mom or dad just "forcing" them to try it.  

Have you visited any of your exchange students?  If so, what was that experience like?

We have been able to visit our two girls in Spain.  The experience was amazing.  This was our first experience in Europe and gave us a great reason to step outside our comfort zone.  Their family treated us royally.  It was an incredible experience getting to have our own personal tour guides/translators/person to order for us in a restaurant.  While in a big city like Madrid we might not have known where to go, but having family there to show us around made it more personal.  They showed us the tiny cafe in the ally that had remarkable gelato.  It gave us a reason to visit the northern shore of Spain and see one of the most amazing zoos in the world.  

This experience also helped my kids feel both comfortable (because they were with their sibling) and uncomfortable because they were forced outside their normal lifestyle.  Having their safety net of a sibling right beside them helped them be able to order different food to taste while speaking in another language surrounded by people all speaking another language.  I can't even find the right words to explain how amazing this experience was for our family.  Just think about walking off an airplane in a foreign country and having someone you love waiting with open arms for you.  That makes you understand how we felt.  

What have you learned about the world through hosting?

We have learned acceptance, patience, tolerance, culture, a new language, and many other things.  I've learned that teenagers are teenagers no matter where they are from!  You cannot find a way to explain culture to a person with a few sentences as a definition to the word.  However, being around someone all year, hearing them talk with family back home, seeing them bring their ideas into your home--these things help you to understand that the differences between what you live every day and how others live isn't a bad thing, but usually done for a reason.

What are some of your favorite memories from hosting?  What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Some of my favorite memories include the simple things of watching my children bond with their exchange siblings in a way that feels normal--things like washing dishes in the kitchen, giggling on the trampoline together, the girls painting nails together, sitting down for a family movie, or playing in the snow together.  

As I think about each bonus child we have added to our life, I remember trips we were able to take together sharing things they loved most.  We took Gustavo to watch an NBA game because the Cleveland Cavaliers are his favorite team in the world.  The excitement before and after the game was like watching a young child on Christmas morning.  Seeing Moni's face light up as she got to go swimming in the lake was almost as magical as watching her ride on a snowmobile.  Bea loved shopping and she was fascinated by our Black Friday outing that lasted through the night.  Even something as simple as letting him play basketball in the front yard in our cul-de-sac gave a smile to Gustavo that can't be erased from my memory--because he doesn't always feel safe in his big city to go out and play.  The more rural landscape was endearing to our big city kids. 

What advice do you have for anyone on the fence about hosting an exchange student?

There hasn't been a moment we were sad about our decision to host.  Think of how amazing it is to get a video call from your son that is 5,000 miles away with tears in his eyes calling you on Christmas telling you he needed to spend some quality time with his family, and you realize that he means you, your children, your dog, your home!  Do not wait to do this, because you never know what will happen to get in the way of this amazing experience.

What advice do you have for new host families?

I'd just say to be clear on expectations and rules from the beginning.  You do have children in your home, and they do need your patience.  Include them in everything from meal prep, to chores, coming along to sibling activities, to joining in on their calls back home.  It helps to open up that dialogue that you need.  

Are you ready to experience the world of exchange like the Pankewich family? Become a host family and find your bonus son or daughter today!  

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