Host mom, Denise, contributed the following story to share with you as a guest blogger, about her experience hosting an international high school student from Germany with AYA—and what hosting exchange students has done to help her family. Tomorrow, we’ll share a similar account from Denise’s daughter, Kelsey, and what the experience is like when you gain an international sibling.
In 2015, we opened our home to a full school year exchange student. We were excited about this hosting experience. We picked Luisa as our exchange student in February and so the months leading up to her arrival, we got to know each other through texting and Facebook messages.
When we picked up Luisa at the airport, we welcomed her into our family, and she truly became a part of our family. She became our German daughter. She fit into our family like she was born into it. Luisa is an adventurer; she was up to trying everything we could think to do, from going to the Harry Potter Festival in Philadelphia, PA, to Punxsutawney, PA for Groundhog’s Day, to Washington, DC to see the cherry blossoms.
Luisa embraced it all. She even got to experience a 3-foot snowfall blizzard—the entire amount of snow for a typical Pennsylvania winter in 2 days.
We shared our traditions with Luisa, and she told us about hers. She and our daughter, Kelsey, were like twins and became the best of friends. When she left our home just 3 days after graduation, it was a very sad time. Since her return home, we have stayed in touch with texts, Facebook messages and Skyping with the computer. We became close, and we will be lifelong friends.
This year my daughter and I had the privilege to go to Eastern Germany to visit Luisa and her family. She got to show us her part of the world. We spent 19 days with her and her family. During that time, we visited some amazing places.
It is truly a wonder that when you open yourself to other cultures you find that we are not that different. We have different customs, traditions and sometimes beliefs, but basically, we are all people. Hosting opens your world in unforgettable ways, and the friendships that are made can last a lifetime.
We have hosted other students with different organizations, too. Some for a weekend, some a few weeks and two for an entire school year, for a total of 15 different students. Each student has made a mark on our lives and taught us new things. We started hosting when our kids were in 3rd and 5th grade, ages 9 and 11. Hosting taught them to be open to other people and to look for common ground with people. They soon realized that most of the differences were small enough that friendships could grow. We have hosted students from Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Dubai-United Arab Emirates and Germany, which was Luisa through AYA.
Our experience with AYA was incredible. AYA is very organized and very supportive. We had a great coordinator too, Jackie, who got us together almost every month as a group of families and our students that she was overseeing. Luisa’s family sent me home a little something for Jackie, so I will be seeing her in the near future to deliver it.
As Jackie knows, Luisa was our second, full year student. For the first one, we went through a different organization, and it was not a very good experience. The other organization assigned us a student. She wasn’t a great fit for the family. She was with us all year, but didn’t speak with us much. We received no support through that organization.
Jackie was surprised that we were open to trying it again. But I truly think that because we knew we had bonded with students who spent 2 weeks in our home, we knew it could be different. AYA was great at doing exchange, there was more support from AYA than the other organization. We were pleased with our experience. I wish we had found AYA for our first long-term hosting. AYA was awesome, and I love the program. I love my new German daughter, and I love what hosting 15 different students has brought to our family and our life experiences.
You can really find lifelong friendships through hosting. We have lifelong friends in Germany and are blessed for having the chance to meet them. I am sure that we will see them again sometime in the future. My daughter has plans to do a semester abroad in England, and I am sure that she and Luisa will get together if she gets that geographically close to her.
Thanks for letting me share our story, I think that everyone should try hosting, because it really enriches our lives and teaches us that we are all people with very similar feelings inside—not all that different from one another.
Learn how you can host an international high school student and enrich your home through cultural exchange with AYA.