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The Exchange Experience

by David and Joann Wells

Ten years ago we made the decision as a family to host our first exchange student. Some of our friends asked us why and our answers seemed reasonable and logical at the time: sharing of cultures, learning about customs in other lands, and so forth.

Within 36 hours of making our decision, we were presented with a folder. On the cover was the smiling face of a 15-year old Danish girl named Anne Marie. Over the next few weeks we wrote letters back and forth and eagerly prepared for her arrival.

I’m trying to remember how long it took for us to go from a “house guest” type of relationship to a family of four. Anyway, it wasn’t long before she became another daughter to us. Like all families, we hit some rough spots along the way, but for the most part, the year flew by quickly. Anne Marie got involved at school and became a member of the track team. By the time she returned home, she had an impressive assortment of medals. I think she also brought back many fond memories of her year in the States and the friends that she made.

In any event, I guess we had a good experience as well, because we’ve hosted 6 other students since then: Elisabeth (Norway), Rosi (Germany), Francois (France), Aude (France), Alexandra (France) and most recently, Ikumi (Japan). Our extended family has been a source of joy for all of us. We have been fortunate enough to visit 3 of the kids in their home countries and 3 of them have come back for visits so far. But I think what makes me happiest is that we have remained a part of each other's lives in spite of the distance between us. We call, write and e-mail each other, and we’re always thrilled to hear from them.

So when people ask us why we host, I think I’m better prepared to answer them these days. In addition to sharing of cultures (especially food!), I have enjoyed getting to know them as individuals. Each of them approached the exchange experience in their own unique way.

I would encourage anyone who might be interested in hosting to give it a try. There are short term programs (3 - 4 weeks) available for those who are uneasy about making a full year commitment.