United Studies Host Dad Reflects on Hosting Exchange Students

07 July 2020

Sometimes life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.  It’s often the things we take a chance on that change our lives the most. Host Dad Peter never anticipated hosting an exchange student, let alone eight over the years, but saying "yes" to hosting that first exchange student made an impact on him more than he could have imagined. 

Years ago my wife saw an advertisement to host an exchange student and presented me with the idea of hosting a foreign exchange student for a school year.  I had vaguely heard about exchange students but I have to admit that the idea of hosting an exchange student brought a lot of questions to mind.

Why would anyone take on the responsibility of someone else’s teen for an entire school year?  On purpose?  My first thoughts were a little overwhelming thinking about having to setup a bed room, changing living arrangements, increased utility bills and who knows what comes with a teenager.

Our exchange student Mayu from Japan arrived shortly before the 2013 school year started and our daughter was excited to have an older “sister”.  Having a “visitor” in the house was a huge motivation to explore our own area, either with exchange student events or out on our own.

We had lots of great little trips around our own local area visiting places we probably would not have visited otherwise. And in addition we learned a lot about Japan.  With her parents assistance (sending supplies) Mayu arranged a Japanese tea ceremony which was quite an experience.

As we were getting closer to the end of the school year Mayu was more a part of the family than a foreign "visitor".  Finishing the school year, Prom, Friday night football, high school graduation and all that includes (like driving up to school very late on prom night because someone forgot to bring a jacket) made me realize that she fit in with our family quite well and I in some ways just gained a daughter.  She still surprises me every year with Happy Birthday and Happy Father's Day messages 7 years later.

I was ready to mark that off the been-there-done-that list. However, with the new school year just around the corner there was a need for a host family for a girl that had celiac disease and had to eat a gluten free diet.  My daughter and I both have to eat gluten free so we know how difficult it can be (at least at that time).  Laura from Spain arrived ready to start her adventure with our family. 

Before arriving we had had a couple of video chats to get to know each other and she quickly fit in with our family.  It was a wonderful year. There was a little extra driving involved going to basketball practice but hearing how the team even years after she left were still talking about #32 is amazing.  I am proud of her for studying to become a veterinarian.

Every exchange student is different but they all come with a goal of learning a new culture as well as sharing their own.  Andrea was another Spanish exchange student that as a first wanted to help out in the workshop building and fixing things. I did enjoy having an unexpected extra hand.  We then had the wonderful experience of visiting her and her family in Seville, Spain for 10 days.  Andrea never forgets to wish me a Happy Fathers Day.

Sometimes the unexpected happens. We had signed up to host a German girl, Katharina, after taking a year off from hosting.  Unfortunately, she became homesick and went back home after three weeks.  I get a little teary-eyed every time she tells me I was the Dad she never had.

After she left we had an exchange boy temporarily until a permanent host could be found. At least that was the plan.  Alejandro, through a number of unexpected circumstances, ended up staying with us the full year.  I expected having a boy in the house would be very different but like the previous exchange students he fit in with the family very fast and used the year to learn and explore with us.  We did have a great spring break trip to Las Vegas and Death Valley and exploring the desert which is very different from the east coast where we live.

Staying with the Spanish we moved on to host another boy from Spain, Jorge (or George).

George loves hiking and he plays the Cello which we figured would fit great with our daughter playing the viola.  It was great to see George wanting to try something new and jumped into theater which was new to him and ended up having a great time with the group putting on a great performance.

We have had many exchange students affect our lives. Either by us hosting or interacting with them through some event or common interest.  After Christmas of 2018 we had a big group of our exchange kids from around the world join us in Denmark.

Getting all the exchange students together in one place was a wonderful experience. With lots of online options we do what we can to keep up with each one but nothing is quite the same as seeing them in person.  I am sure our rather large group of teens was noticed in an otherwise somewhat small town where we stayed.

Latest exchange student experience was an Italian girl (Ludo) and due to circumstances a Spanish girl (Valle) joined her and we had a double placement for the school year.  

I must admit that was a lot of girls in the house. Always something happening and never a dull moment.  We explored all we could.  COVID-19 Put a damper on many of our plans starting in the spring, but in a way it made us even closer as a family.  Ludo taught the girls how to make many Italian dishes and Valle wanted to learn about wood working and frequently joined me in the workshop. This year squirrel tables was the big thing and she built 10+ tables to delight many squirrels around.

Over the 7 years we have hosted, we have learned so much about ourselves and the world.  Each exchange student has added something new to our family.   I am extremely proud of everything they have accomplished while they are here and I am proud to have sons and daughters from Japan, Germany, Spain, and Italy!

Are you ready to have a life-changing experience like Peter?  Host an exchange student with United Studies!

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