A Farm-Fresh Adventure for Max

When exchange students dream of their future host home, “farm life” often isn’t on their radar! Even so, Max from Germany feels he has found his perfect second home exploring farm life with the fun-loving Erb family.

Life on the Farm

Jeremy and Laura Erb own and operate an organic grain farm in Milton, PA.

 “I definitely had fears,” shares host mom Laura. “I thought, ‘he is not going to want to live on a farm… we get dirty…what if he doesn’t like it here?”

But when Max arrived, those fears melted away as he embraced all that the farm had to offer. Laura quipped that whatever they invited Max to do, he was enthusiastically all-in.

“Hey Max, wanna come do these chores? Hey Max, wanna ride along on this delivery?” No matter the question, his answer was always YES! “Things that our boys took for granted as a chore for them was like a fresh adventure for Max.”

Max shared that some of his best memories of his exchange year include time spent on the farm – late nights bringing in the Autumn harvest, riding along for hay deliveries, learning to do chores, tagging along in the combine. “There’s always something going on!” he said.

To the Erb family, everyday life had a certain pattern wrapped up in work and chores.

 “Having Max here has given us fresh eyes, that hey, this is FUN! We get so used to our mundane life, so to have a different perspective is refreshing.”

Brothers

As an only child in Germany, Max has loved gaining 3 brothers.  Laura has been amazed by how well they got along! The oldest left for college shortly after Max arrived, but that didn’t keep the boys from connecting daily through Snapchat.

“Our middle son has autism, which I worried may be difficult, but Max is amazing with him!” shares Laura. “And of course my 12 year old loves hanging out with him.”  

To have brothers is a new thing for Max, but he wouldn’t trade it. “There’s much more action in the evening!” he laughed.

“Wanna ride a pig?”

Perhaps one of the most memorable of Max’s farm adventures has been helping to raise pigs for slaughter. This has been a semi-regular hobby venture for the Erb boys, who would buy piglets and care for them with the purpose of filling the freezer with pork or selling at a profit. As expected, Max was “all in” with this activity as well, and he actually became the piglet caretaker, feeding them morning and night!

When asked if he’d like to ride along to pick up the piglets, he answered with a resounding YES – and when he was asked if he’d like to ride a pig?!? Well, of course, he said YES to that as well!

“I think he stayed on for maybe 2 seconds,” laughed Laura, “but still… MAX RODE A PIG!”

He’s bringing adventure to these otherwise “normal” moments.

Saying Goodbye

“I’m going to go through the grieving process when he leaves!” chuckled Laura.

Max has made an imprint on everyone’s hearts, and the Erb farm simply won’t be the same without him.

“I wish I could stay here longer,” shared Max, “but I know that we are not really saying goodbye. I’m not losing them… I have gained a new family for life, and we will always have each other.”

Oregon’s “Ray” of Sunshine

Ray Hernandez is outgoing, magnetic, and a gifted guitarist. Like any exchange student, he had some doubts about leaving the familiarity of his home in Spain to embrace the unknown of an exchange year in the US. Fortunately for Ray, that one leap of faith has completely transformed his world, bringing him a renewed sense of self, a revived purpose and focus, and a $60,000 scholarship to attend Oregon State University!!

While just about every student worries about which classes they’ll take, the friends they’ll make, and whether or not they’ll get along with their host family, Ray had unique concerns.

As a transgender senior, Ray wondered if he would be able to find a supportive host family during his program.

What he found exceeded his wildest dreams: an inclusive school, community, and host family that gave him a new lease on life!

“When I came here, I found a completely different environment,” shares Ray. “I’ve had more opportunities here than I’ve ever had anywhere!”

One particularly impactful experience was the opportunity to attend the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Conference, held in Michigan. Ray was astounded by the myriad of people from all walks of life, supporting and learning from one another.

“There were all these people being proud of who they are,” remembers Ray, “and a lot of information about all kinds of topics that helped me see things in a new way, and to see myself from a healthy perspective.”

As Ray shuffled past doctors, lawyers, philanthropists, and so on, he developed a new vision of what his future could look like and who he could become. He became passionate about extending his time in the US by applying for Oregon State University, which is just a few minutes away from his host home. With that new vision came a renewed work ethic, and suddenly it was a whole new Ray.

“He is such a character,” shares Lorena, “and when he first got here, he didn’t worry too much about school work. He had fun with friends and playing soccer, but he didn’t have plans for an academic future.”

Snowboarding, with Lorena’s nephew

Ray agreed, saying that he was never sure what his future would hold, and that he didn’t have a clear picture for any of it. Once a future at OSU was within the realm of possibility, Ray knew that it would take a scholarship to make his dream come true. SO, he buckled down and got to work!

“We talked about what it would take,” remembers Lorena, “and I said you HAVE to get your grades up if you’re going to go for this!”

And Ray DID, working hard to raise his grades from nearly failing to A’s and B’s!

Lorena also helped coach Ray in preparation for the interview process, so that by the time he walked into that room, he was ready. What was intended to be a 30 minute interview became a full hour, and it’s no surprise that the selection committee was captivated by Ray’s story!

“That’s just him,” shares LC Susie Foster, “he can’t walk into an area without people wanting to talk to him. Everybody loves him… he’s got that captivating personality.”

Host mom Lorena agrees.

“Ray has this gigantic personality. It’s just been a great experience hosting him, he’s a gem.”

Ray says he’s thrilled to be able to continue to learn and grow in the Corvallis community in particular, which has become a second home and a place where he can truly be himself.

“Everyone here respects me,” shares Ray, “and that’s a relief. I’m able to live the life I’ve always dreamed of.”

Ray is an old soul, in a way, who recognizes that all seasons of his life have had a purpose.

“None of my time in the past was wasted, it was all working together to make me who I am,” shares Ray. “I’m becoming the person I’ve always dreamed about becoming, and I’m just happy. My world has changed so much in 7 months, it’s unbelievable.”

Scuba diving in Honduras for Thanksgiving

 

While Ray’s experiences on exchange have breathed new life into his personal plans, they have also fueled a new passion for activism.

Ray shares that one of the main things he wants to do is to encourage and help other people who may be struggling.

 

“I want people to be proud of themselves,” shares Ray, “and I want to change their lives in a meaningful way. Whether I stay here or go back to Spain, I want to help people.”

An enormous part of Ray’s successful stay in the US is due to his incredible host family, who was hand-picked by an insightful coordinator. LC Susie Foster shares that she knew exactly the person to reach out to when seeking the perfect home for Ray.

“Lorena is one of the movers and shakers I know,” shared Susie. As a well-known lawyer in the Corvallis community, Lorena has personally fought and won for equality in the state of Oregon, often in support of people with non-binary gender identities. “She’s just incredible,” shares Susie, “And Ray and Lorena are inseparable – they’re both these social justice fighters!”

 

Ray agrees that his host family has been the life-blood of his experience. “They basically adopted me, and they feel like family for me.”

Host mom Lorena has a unique perspective on Ray’s gender identity journey, since she has walked this same road with her brother, who is a well-known advocate in the transgender community. She was able to personally relate not only to Ray’s experiences, but also to the natural questions, concerns, and fears of his natural parents.

Lorena explained an analogy that helped her better understand the transgender situation.

“When you’re left-handed,” shared Lorena, “if people force you to be right-handed, you’re never going to be happy… because you’re spending all your life energy trying to write with your right hand!” It’s the same thing, Lorena says, about asking someone to conform to an identity that doesn’t feel natural to them. “As soon as you let them be who they are, they’re going to be a totally different person.”

And while the exchange year is always difficult on natural parents, who must part with their child for what can feel like a lifetime, Ray’s parents couldn’t be prouder of him.

“Mom and dad are really proud of me, really happy because they see that I’m happy too,” shares Ray. “That’s another thing that I really love. My relationship with my parents has only gotten stronger.”

Ray’s is a huge success story from many angles, and it’s a beautiful reminder that our program is about never shying away from learning more. As an organization committed to fostering relationships that explore “the differences that define us as well as the similarities that unite us,” we’re reminded that “cultural diversity” extends beyond merely what country you come from. Cultural diversity is wrapped up in every part and parcel of what makes a person wholly unique.

National Director Jodi Lundell applauded Ray as a “huge success story,” not simply for the incredible scholarship he was awarded, but because of his bravery in showing up with authenticity and encouraging others to do the same.

“All people have a different point of view, and we’re not here to make all people think the same way,” shares Jodi. “But cultural exchange is about transforming and cultivating the way people think. We should never shy away from learning more about another human being, and we just may find it shapes the way we see the world going forward!”

Disneyland trip with friends and family

We’re continually amazed by our students’ ability to truly shape the world for the better, which has sparked an innovative idea!

iE-USA is currently in the development phase of a brand new “Student Ambassador Program,” which will engage and reward teen youth (both American and International) in the common goal of spreading cultural awareness and understanding.

As an “organic” grass-roots ambassador for open and honest communication, Ray’s time in the US embodies the spirit of this new student ambassador program.

 

 

Ray, congratulations! You have been an amazing ambassador and a role model, you have joined full-force in the important mission of whole-person cultural exchange and understanding, and to celebrate the culmination of your hard work, you have earned this distinguished honor of a collegiate scholarship. We are proud of you!

 

 

We LOVE Our Host Families!

As Valentine’s day approaches, let us give credit where credit is due: our incredible host families! WE LOVE YOU! We appreciate each and every host family who has joined us in this journey – let us share just a few of their stories with you!


It’s a Twin Thing!

What’s more fun than hosting an exchange student?

Doing it alongside your TWIN SISTER!

The energetic young-at-heart retired couple, Carren and Sid Cavanaugh, had so much fun hosting exchange students multiple years in a row that the idea soon caught on! Charon, Carren’s twin sister who lives nearby, decided to get in on the fun as well! Carren and Sid have hosted 6 students with iE, and Charon and her husband Robert have hosted 2!

“They are both just incredible couples,” shares coordinator Angie Roye. “Truly genuine people!”

Angie has loved getting to know both the Cavanaughs and the Coffmans, and she shares that the sisters are very much alike in terms of temperament and energy.

“They’re the kind of people everyone wants to be around,” shares Angie. “They’re very involved with their students, and they run circles around me with all the activities they do!”

The students hosted have been appreciative too – they stay in touch, develop great relationships, and come back to visit every year.

“They’re super interested and engaged, because they truly care,” shares Angie.


“World’s Best American Dad”

In the beginning, Greg Hopkins wondered if a student would become bored at a host home with a single host dad. Now, as Greg continues his 4th year hosting, nothing could have been further from the truth!

“Each of Greg’s students have had a really amazing experience,” shares coordinator Becky Watters. “He receives ‘Father’s Day’ presents from his former students; referring to him as their “American Dad’.”

Though Greg doesn’t have any children of his own, he HAS been in the education field for over 20 years.

 

“He truly has a passion for young people and helping them achieve success,” shares Becky. “And he really enjoys the experience of having iE students as part of his family.”


Exploring Together

Though the Lenzemeiers (including 2 young sons!) are brand new to hosting, they jumped right in, sweeping their student Javier along in an active lifestyle that keeps the family rockin’.

“They are really active and family-oriented,” shares coordinator Jessica Lane, “but they have this wonderful easy-going vibe about them. It never feels stressed out.”

Since the Lenzemeier family is relatively new to their home in Colorado Springs, they became quickly excited about exploring their new home turf alongside an exchange student!

“They’re really active, and that’s what I think is so great,” shares Jessica. “It gives them an opportunity to get out, be together; and everybody has fun when you get out!”


An Open Door

Mel, Doreen and Cody Patterson began hosting a few years in response to a need for an emergency host home.

“They immediately stepped up and took the girl in and quickly made her feel at home,” remembers coordinator Charlotte Powell.

Soon after, yet another student was in need, and once again the Patterson family took him in without a second thought. The next year, remembers Charlotte, they chose a student to host for the whole year and loved every minute of it.

“Mid-year, I was telling them about how I was looking for a home for a young German student in need of an emergency placement,” remembers Charlotte. “An hour later I got a call. They would take him in as well.”

Charlotte shares that the Patterson family has such a heart for students in need of a fresh start, and that each student they have hosted have truly found a second family with them.

“They are willing to accept each student as the wonderfully unique individual they are,” shares Charlotte. “They truly want to share their lives with the students, but most of all, they genuinely care that these students feel loved.”


Always Room for One More!

Melissa and Dave Hamilton are an active couple who love kids. They have a full schedule – Melissa is a science teacher, coach and advisor for the student panel of Athens Area Community Foundation, and Dave is a contractor and president of the boost club. And though they have an active lifestyle with 3 children of their own, they have loved adding an exchange student to the mix as well.

“The Hamiltons are a busy family but always have time for their kids,” shares coordinator Diane Casselman – and that includes their exchange students!

Diane shares that this family “works” so well as a host family because they truly care. This means real relationship every single time!

“They have fun with their students and truly make them a part of their family,” shares Diane.


In it Together

Billy and Carolyn Lowe have hosted a total of 7 students with iE, often hosting 2 at a time! They’re currently hosting Jannik from Germany and Iker from Spain.

“They welcomed their boys with open arms,” shares Regional Director Charli Harris, “and enthusiastically participate in any and all activities whether it be sporting events, holiday events or simply playing board games together as a family.”

Charli shares that the Lowe family is “all in” with their students, supporting them the way they would their own children.

“I truly appreciate their caring nature and sharing the best of American culture with their students!”


 

Can YOU see yourself in these stories? We’d love to connect! Visit iE-USA.org to learn more about becoming a host family!

4 Ways to Spice Up YOUR Super Bowl Party!

HOLD IT. What does the Super Bowl have to do with student exchange?!

Well let’s start with this: it’s not just about the game! (Right?!) There’s no denying that the Super Bowl has become a major national icon of connection and camaraderie (and oh yeah – FOOTBALL!)

Just think about it.

When else does our nation collectively consume over 1.3 billion chicken wings in a single day?!

But all joking aside, the celebrations surrounding the Super Bowl are wonderfully representative of life as an American – complete with familiar foods and jovial friendships – and as such, they draw our students even deeper into what it means to belong. For our students, connecting with “football culture” (and the Super Bowl in particular!) is one more way to round out their AMERICAN experience!

Ready to host a KILLER Super Bowl party?

Whether you’re currently hosting an exchange student or you’re just game for a party (see what I did there??) – consider adding some of these super simple activities to engage your guests!

Football Charades

Use all the common rules of charades but give it a Super Bowl twist. Here are a few words to help you get started: touchdown, field goal, cheerleader, helmet, football, team, quarterback, halfback, goal post, halftime, mascot, referee, announcer, and coach!

Don’t Say It

This game is played throughout the party and can result in some hilarious moments for the guests! Each person needs a whistle on a lanyard to wear during the party. One or two words are designated as off-limits. Choose words that your guests will tend to say a lot during the game such as football, touchdown or score. If someone says the forbidden word, the person who catches him takes his whistle! Play the game throughout the night, awarding a prize to the person with the most whistles at the end of the party.

Rate the Super Bowl Commercial

We all know that half the fun of watching the game is critiquing the commercials! Create “score cards” and attach them to popsicle sticks. Simply write numbers on card stock, give each guest a stack of score cards, and during each commercial, your guests can hold up their cards to rate how well the liked them on a scale of 1-5!

And don’t forget the FOOD!!

Is there anything better than sharing delicious food at a Super Bowl party?? Whether you’re hosting or going out, include a little international flare!

Hosting? Invite your student to pick a favorite dish to create from his/her home country!

Just dreaming of far-off shores? Try a new international dish to give a little variety to the standard chicken wings and buffalo sauce.

Need an idea? Try this traditional German appetizer, with German flavors like apple, sauerkraut, and knackwurst or bratwurst, served with a sweet mustard sauce.

Holiday Strudel with Mustard Sauce

reposted from https://germanfoods.org/recipe/holiday-strudel-with-mustard-sauce/

A great Oktoberfest or holiday party treat with German flavors. Strudel with apple, sauerkraut and knackwurst or bratwurst, with a sweet mustard cream sauce. Serve as an appetizer (8 portions) or slice larger as an entrée. (4 portions)

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 cup German butter melted
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple peeled, cored and diced
  • 1-1/2 cups drained German Wine Sauerkraut
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 8 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1/4 cup German sweet mustard
  • 1 pound authentic German knackwurst or bratwurst thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp German butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 3 tbsp German sweet mustard
  • 1 tsp paprika
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a large skillet, over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons butter, sauté onion for 3 minutes. Add diced apple and sauté 3 more minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sauerkraut and caraway, and mix well.
  3. On a large baking sheet, lay out one sheet of phyllo and fold in half lengthwise and brush with about 1 tablespoon butter. Repeat layering. Spread mustard over last layer of phyllo. Then spread sauerkraut filling along the long lengthwise side to the center of the dough leaving a 1 1/2-inch border around the edges. Top sauerkraut with knackwurst or bratwurst slices; roll jellyroll-style folding in the short edges. Place seam-side down on pan; brush top with butter and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  4. Meanwhile prepare mustard sauce. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat, stir in flour to form a smooth past. Slowly stir in cream and continue stirring to keep lumps from forming. Whisk in mustard and heat through. Slice warm strudel and serve in a pool of mustard sauce. Sprinkle mustard sauce with paprika.

 

Hosting Christian – The Right Fit!

When a family is matched with just the right student, we often find that the experience changes them, making a mark on their family that will never be forgotten.

Carrie and Brian Barton and their son Kevin had often opened their home to others – a teen mom and her baby, a baseball player – and had even considered fostering to adopt. After being presented with the idea of hosting an exchange student (and giving it some good thought!) they happily welcomed Christian from Germany into their home!

“This is our first year hosting, but it won’t be our last!” shares Carrie. “So far it has been better than we could have ever hoped for!”

Carrie shares that Christian is a perfect fit for their family – a young man who is silly, musical, athletic, brave, adventurous, polite, considerate and kind.

“Our home is filled with the sounds of his beautiful piano playing,” shares Carrie, “and he is always happy to hang out with us and talk, go to new places, meet our friends and try new things.”

One of the “new” things presented to Christian was a spot in the family’s co-ed softball game. Carrie shares that he was a little nervous since softball is not a popular sport Germany, so he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to keep up. But he was excited to try, and with a host family ready to cheer him on, he couldn’t lose!

“One of our favorite memories so far is when he got his 1st hit!” remembers Carrie. “We all signed the ball for him and gave it to him as a keepsake. That’s just one of many wonderful memories we’ve banked up in our minds and hearts.”

In the end, Christian is just a GREAT match for the Barton family – something that makes a huge difference in the success of a placement – and something the Barton family thanks their LC, Angie Roye, for taking the time to facilitate!

“Angie prides herself in making excellent matches between students and host families,” shares Carrie, “and we are proof of that, as we can’t think of a more perfect match for us!”

As the Bartons enter the second half of their hosting agreement, they already know how much they will miss Christian when he’s gone. They look forward to many more special memories in the next months, as well as a trip to Germany next summer to visit Christian’s friends and family.

 

Hanukkah, Stockings & Saint Nicholas Too!

One of the brilliant parts of hosting an exchange student is the FUN that comes from including them in your family’s holiday celebrations… and trying out some of theirs!

This has been true of the Chudoba family, who is hosting Alex from Germany this year.

This vibrant family is accustomed to having guests in their house, so when host mom Brandi heard about some young men needing a host home before the start of school, she jumped right in!

“My house is just always an open door,” said Brandi.

Brandi’s 3 children, ages 12, 10 and 6, have loved having an older brother. “He’s uber-easy-going, and I think that helps,” shares Brandi.

The Chudoba family has loved welcoming Alex into their extended family traditions, which include both Christmas and Hanukkah.

“All our family is local,” shares Brandi, “and they’ve all welcomed Alex right into the mix!”

At one large family Christmas gathering, Alex was even welcomed into the family tradition of receiving an embroidered Pottery Barn stocking with his name on it!

Incorporating student traditions can be just fun as sharing your own, and the Chudoba family discovered this first hand. They jumped right into the fun German tradition of putting out their shoes to receive treats from Saint Nicholas on Dec. 6, which was a first for their family.

To add to the festivities, Alex and the Chudoba family enjoyed a beautiful Hanukkah as well, since Brandi’s sister is Jewish.

They enjoyed a gorgeous celebration –  a new experience for Alex! Included in the traditional meal were many German foods (like latkes!), serving as an unexpected touch of home for their exchange student guest.

 


Exchange has always been about giving and sharing, and this could not be more true during the holiday season! Thank you, Chudoba family for sharing a glimpse into your lives this time of year!

Blessings to all, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS from iE!

 

Leonie’s Christmas in America

One of the joys of exchange is experiencing all the ways we’re different, as well as all the many ways we’re the same – and this is especially true during the holiday season!

Leonie Gabriel from Germany is staying with the Fishel family in Fishers, Indiana.

She and her family both celebrate Christmas, but this year Leonie is excited about experiencing it in a brand new way – while sharing some of her favorite German traditions as well!

Leonie loves that Christmas is a time for the family to come together. She’s already thinking about some small differences she can expect, like opening presents on the morning of the 25th instead of on Christmas Eve, like she is used to doing.

“I also imagine that I will hang socks out with my host siblings, in which Santa Claus can put the gifts!”

She would also like to attend church with her host family for Christmas, since she has heard that church in America is completely different than what she has experienced in Germany.

“Me and my host siblings will put out biscuits {cookies} and milk for Santa Clause,” shares Leonie, “which is also something new for me!”

But as she embraces the NEW, Leonie is just as excited about sharing some of her most treasured traditions with the people she has come to love here in the U.S.

One of her favorites is singing Christmas songs while she plays piano on Christmas Eve, which is a tradition she plans to keep alive this year by performing a Christmas duet with her host brother!

She also wants to include her friends in a “girls day” tradition, which sounds like it’s worthy of becoming a staple for just about any teen girl.

“We’ll be watching a Christmas movie together, baking Christmas biscuits together and decorating them,” shares Leonie. “Plus I hope that we sing together, spend time and just have fun!”

At Christmastime, relationships with loved ones come first – and Leonie counts herself especially lucky to feel so at home with her host family. “I can’t imagine a better one, and I just feel awesome!” she shares. “I get along well with my host siblings and we do a lot together.” Leonie has enjoyed many adventures with her family of all shapes of sizes – camping, attending a Charlie Puth concert, visiting holiday world, swimming, and going to The Lion King musical. And while Leonie HAS noticed that America is quite different from Germany, from the school system to the culture to the “sweet-tasting food,” she’s loving all the “new.” And this Christmas season, she’s excited about sharing some of the “old” as well.

Why Student Exchange is more “Thanksgiving-y” than Black Friday and Pumpkin Pie COMBINED

As a national holiday that’s specific to the US, the Thanksgiving experience is one our exchange students always cherish!

Eat way too much food? DONE.  Sit around watching the football game or the Macy’s Day parade? DONE and DONE.  Do a little shopping? ABSOLUTELY! 

But consider this: the very act of bringing an international student into your home is perhaps more representative of the true spirit of the holiday than ANY of those iconic activities.

WHY?

One of the cornerstones of that early celebration was the notion of coming together. 

Despite many differences and overwhelming odds, that original relationship between Pilgrim and Native American – that first connection, collaboration, and communal feast – represented something far greater. People coming together, “natives” welcoming “foreigners,” men and women and children recognizing themselves in the “other.”

 

So in a very real way, our dear host families, who have opened their homes and hearts to our students, have embodied the spirit of Thanksgiving beyond what they may even perceive! They have opened their bounty to “foreigners” – as the Native Americans once did for the Pilgrims – and chose UNITY over all else.

In today’s cultural climate of division and criticism, let’s uphold this beautiful example as a guidepost for all areas of our busy lives. Let’s look for ways to welcome “the other.” In our gratitude, in our THANKSGIVING, let’s look for ways to extend the welcome mat. We may find that our daily life becomes a little sweeter in the process – and not just because of the pumpkin pie. 🙂

From our international family to yours –  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

 

 

“Way to Go, Julie…”

Christa and Brian Tesch may be new host parents, but they already feel right at home hosting 16 year old Julie.

“She is a perfect mix of my kids’ personalities,” shares Christa. “I swear she could be my child! They all get along really well.”

The Tesch family has two children of their own, 19 year old Zachary and 14 year old Gracelyn. At 16 years old, their eager German exchange student splits the difference and fits right in the middle – the “3rd wheel” they didn’t know they were missing.

While the Tesch family is thrilled at how quickly Julie has become a part of the family, they weren’t originally planning to host at all! Christa shares that she was thinking of people who she could refer to host, since she is friends with an iE staff member and had been hearing about how host families were in short supply. But one day she took stock of her family and home and realized THEY were actually perfected suited to host as well!

“I thought to myself, I have a good home, I have the ability to take in a student,” shares Christa, “So I think this is what we’re supposed to do!”

The week following that decision was a whirlwind – changing their home office into a bedroom with all the logistics that follow – and of course, the most important task, choosing their student!

“We let the kids help decide, and we used some instincts,” remembers Christa. “We all felt really strongly about Julie!!”

Christa shares that once the decision was made to host, a NEW fear emerged: “What if I get attached and have to send her home?” We’ve heard from many host families that saying goodbye is often the most difficult piece of the puzzle, and this brand new host mom innately knew that could be a challenge.

Unfortunately for Christa, “getting attached” has already happened in full force… but as with everything else, this family just loves to laugh about it.

For example, Christa, host sister Grace, and their friend Taylor took Julie shopping for the homecoming dance. While they chatted, they agreed they would ALL miss her so much when they had to say goodbye! Grace teased that Julie had made their worst fear come true… Now they HAD gotten attached and they DID dread having to say goodbye!! “Yeah, way to go, Julie,” she teased. And to her friend Taylor she said, “If you think THIS is bad, you should try LIVING with her!” The friends burst into laughter… usually “you should try living with her” is a BAD thing… but this time it means “you couldn’t possibly understand how wonderful she is unless you live with her!” What a sweet moment and memory – and what a lucky student Julie is to be so warmly welcomed.

All joking aside, the Tesch family is enjoying their first hosting experience so much, and Christa feels she has gained some perspective as well.

“It’s HUGE what we’re asking these kids to do!” she says. “They’re supposed to come here and adapt to our way of life, and that takes a lot.”

Christa says that they’ve found that showing an interest in Julie and asking her about Germany made all the difference in establishing an early connection. Right off the bat Grace was asking Julie to help her learn some words in German. And that’s all it takes, Christa shared – just showing you’re interested in THEM.

5 Pumpkin-Loving Activities For Your Family!

Exchange students love experiencing anything “American” – and what could be more representative of our culture this time of year than pumpkin spice lattes?!

All joking aside, we are a nation that loves our seasons, as well as the iconic flavors that go with them. It comes as no surprise to us then that October is all about the PUMPKINS!

In honor of this chilly month, we’re serving up 5 different ways YOU can maximize your family’s pumpkin enthusiasm – whether you’re hosting a student (who will be eager to try so many fun new things!) or you simply want to bring the magic of autumn into your home.

1) Pumpkin Spice Scavenger Hunt Anyone?

Have you noticed?! Pumpkin spice is EVERYWHERE!! Go to the grocery store and make it a game!  Who can find the most pumpkin spice flavored items? The most obscure item wins!! (Pumpkin spice Pringles, anyone?!) For a fun sneak-peak of some of the oddities you may find, check out this post from Wide Open Eats!

2) Show Off Your Family-Favorite Pumpkin Pie.

Ok ok, so this sounds a little mundane (especially compared to pumpkin spice Pringles!) but pumpkin pie is one of the most American traditions around. Not only that, but I’m willing to bet your family just might have a “family favorite” recipe. Share the magic with your student, or rediscover it yourselves.

3) Carve a Pumpkin, Eat the Seeds!

Don’t discount this childhood favorite – exchange students LOVE carving pumpkins!

Toast up the seeds for a delicious and nutritious treat. Check out Valerie’s Kitchen for a simple recipe!

Think variety is the spice of life? We agree! Try Pumpkin Seeds 5 Ways from the Food Network.

4) Just GET the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Already! 🙂

It’s a must-have! Nothing says “I care about you” quite like a coffee date to grab a PSL. Go get one together!! You’ll be glad for a chance to sit and unwind… and you’ll be surprised what a meaningful bonding moment it can be.

5) Host a Pumpkin Family Cook-Off Challenge!

Who can cook up the most delicious pumpkin dish? Will it be pumpkin scones, pumpkin soup, or perhaps roasted pumpkin?? Get creative with a family cook-off challenge! Enjoy a family night together “Master Chef” style. Each challenger chooses a pumpkin recipe in advance, submits the ingredients to the kitchen manager (aka “mom”), and prepares a pumpkin-themed food! Friendly family competition is good for the soul…. and delicious pumpkin-based recipes are good for the tummy. Take a quick scroll through Pinterest – you’ll be amazed at the possibilities! Have fun, and get creative!