Why we’re hosting a foreign exchange student

My wife and I recently decided to host a foreign exchange student from Brazil. He’ll be living at our house for the spring semester of 2012 – January through June.

We had talked before about wanting to host an exchange student, but we always thought it would be on our “someday” list – someday when our kids are older, when we have more money, when we have more time, etc. We’re very busy right now taking care of two young children under the age of 4, and we live on one income, so we weren’t 100% sure if we were “ready” to take in an exchange student for a whole semester.

But we decided to go for it. Here’s why:

  • I know how important the exchange student experience can be. 16 years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I met a young man from Germany named Fabrice Witzke who was an exchange student at my school. We went on to become lifelong friends. I went to visit Fabrice in Europe in 2000, 2003 and 2004. He came to stay with us at our house in 2008. I’d like to help make it possible for someone else to make a lifelong friendship with someone from another country. Perhaps our student from Brazil will meet friends in Des Moines that he will stay in touch with for many years to come.
  • Fabrice Witzke, Ben Gran and baby boy Gran (Aug. 2008)

  • I love meeting people from other cultures. I lived in Japan from 2001-2002, teaching English on the JET Program. It was one of the most memorable and influential years of my life – I would recommend it to anyone who’s trying to decide what to do with their first year out of college. I traveled in Europe during the last summer of my college years, in July of 2000. I saw Germany, France, Spain and London. I lived out of a backpack and traveled by train. I stayed with Fabrice in Cologne, we traveled together to Paris and stayed at a hostel where they served us a breakfast of baguette and hot chocolate. Then we took the overnight train to the lovely seaside resort area of Seignosse, along the Atlantic coast of France, where the World War II concrete bunkers still stand watch over the shimmering sea. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Then I found my way to San Sebastian, Spain (my wife and I named our firstborn son in honor of this charming city of the Basque region), took an 8-hour train to Madrid, went to Barcelona and then back to Paris again. I met new people all along the way. You never learn more about yourself than when you’re travelling in another country.
  • I want to be a good host to other world travelers. During my travels in Europe and my time living in Japan, so many people opened their homes to me. Fabrice’s aunt helped us find a place to stay near the Atlantic Ocean in Seignosse, France. Fabrice’s college classmates in Paris hosted wonderful impromptu dinner parties with lots of wine. My friends Hiro and Satoru in Japan hosted me at their family homes in Tokyo and Chiba. Hiro’s friend Shoichi let my wife and I stay at his apartment on our first night in Japan in Feb. 2007, and poured us many cups of delicious tea. I am sorry to say that I cannot even remember all of the names of the people who have shown me such wonderful hospitality, but all of them in their own small way were serving as ambassadors for their home countries and cultures. In my own small way, I’d like to do the same. I want to be known as someone who is generous, welcoming, and willing to create connections with people. We’ve hosted other international visitors before – from Kosovo, Spain, Chile, Ethiopia, Sweden and Japan. We hosted two Japanese high school students for a week last October. So we wanted to take the next step and host an exchange student to be part of our family for a full semester.

Our Japanese exchange students with our son

Being a work-at-home freelancer can be tough sometimes – I sometimes feel a bit isolated and shut off from the outside world. By hosting an exchange student, in this one small way I think we will be a bit more involved in the world. My favorite learning experiences in life have come from travelling, living abroad and meeting people from other countries and cultures. These are the experiences from my life that I would most strongly recommend to my own children. I hope we can provide a happy home and a rich learning environment for our student from Brazil.

Would you like to host a foreign exchange student? The program we’re involved with is the American Institute for Foreign Study.

I can’t think of anything more important, or more meaningful, than helping a young person achieve the dream of living and studying in the U.S. I’ve seen the power of this experience in my own life, and I’m proud to open up my home to help make it possible for someone else.

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