Over almost two decades, the Lewis Family in Idaho has remained dedicated to cultural exchange opportunities by hosting high school exchange students from all around the world. They’ve built such everlasting bonds and relationships as a host family that a group of their exchange students decided to give back by coordinating an epic reunion. Read on for a reflection from host dad, Allen, to learn more:
First of all, let me start by saying my wife and I ask God to lead us day by day and help us with the decisions we make and the things we choose to do. This story actually starts with my wife, Janean, and began on a warm summer evening in June. At the time we had been married about 15 years and did not have any children of our own.
On that specific Thursday evening, she was driving to town and feeling sad about our childless situation. She then heard this question in her mind, “Have you ever thought about exchange students?” She remembers thinking that was an interesting question and said, “No,” because she had never thought about having an exchange student in our home.
The next day, Janean and I were together working in a health booth at a local festival in our city of Weiser, ID. A local exchange student coordinator stopped by our booth and began talking to me about having a student in our home. I had no idea of my wife’s experience of the day before so I listened to the coordinator as she [told me about] a boy from Oman. I looked at his student profile and then at several others and decided I liked a girl from Oman instead. In my mind, I was thinking Janean would never go along with having a student in our home, so when I showed her the profile, I was surprised that she actually showed some interest.
Later that evening, she told me about her experience in the car the day before and I was amazed! We prayed about it and asked a few family members and close friends what they thought, and began to find out more about having a student in our home.
That was in the summer of 2009 and in January 2010, we welcomed Maitha from Oman into our home for the second semester of the school year. It was a wonderful experience learning about her country, her culture, and her family. It was also fun to hear about her classes at school and to meet and interact with the many friends she made while she was here.
Since that time, we have been blessed with a total of 18 students in our home from all around the world. It still amazes us that these young people have the courage to leave their families, come half way around the world and share their lives with complete strangers!
Then one day in late December 2018, we received a cryptic text from our Ukrainian [host] daughter Tanya, asking what plans we had for the coming August? That seemed rather strange to us, since that was nearly 9 months away. We responded by saying that we really didn’t know, but what did she have on her mind? It turned out that she and several of our kids had communicated among themselves and decided they wanted to do something special for our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary! They (we didn’t know how many at the time), were planning to host us for a week in the resort town of Zakopane, Poland and all we had to do was get ourselves there! Wow, what a surprise!
It’s hard to express the joy and excitement we were feeling at the time knowing we were going to get to see some of our kids again! When the dust had settled and all the arrangements were made, we met 6 of our kids and spent an unforgettable 5 days in that picturesque mountain town in southern Poland.
After we left the kids in Poland, we spent another 11 days touring Europe. We started first in Munich where we met the family of our second German daughter, Marlene, (who by the way had arrived in Idaho two days before we left for Europe and was staying with our LC until we returned!). We saw the quaint German towns in the black forest, toured the magnificent castle region and spent a day in Austria. Then we took a train to Cologne where we stayed for 3 lovely days with Lina and her family who took time out of their busy schedules to ensure that we had a memorable stay in their fascinating city.
The last leg of our journey took us to Tallinn, Estonia where we met up again with Katre, who had returned home by then, and Liza who was not able to make it to the reunion in Poland. Liza and her mom invited us to stay with them and they took great care of us. We had many unforgettable sight-seeing trips with the girls which often times included Katre’s entire family, who planned and took us on several outings. One memorable evening, the families of both girls planned a “family night” where we met at Katre’s home with Liza and her family and shared a wonderful meal together. We talked and ate and just had a great time together.
Seeing the kids again, spending time with them and their families was like a dream come true. Hosting exchange students has truly enriched our lives and we are thankful to have been blessed with so many wonderful experiences. We can hardly wait for our newest girl, Inam, to arrive from Pakistan this coming August!