Embarking on a new adventure can feel a little daunting, and sometimes downright scary. This is true of exchange students waiting to set foot on American soil, but it can also be true of host parents, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new family member!
Host mom Sue Cubbage had always wanted to host an exchange student, so when her friend Kathy Kendall starting working for an exchange organization, she knew she was finally ready to take the leap.
“It was a little scary since I had never done it before,” remembers Sue. “But Mrs. Kendall helped match me with Antonia from Germany, and she was a perfect fit right from the start!”
Even though Sue served as a single host parent, her involvement with her family and in her community meant that Antonia had no shortage of connections and opportunities.
“Mrs. Kendall told us to get her involved in sports so she would meet friends, and that’s exactly what we did!” remembers Sue. “She did volleyball, track, and later got involved in the theater. It’s perfect, because they make friends even before the school year starts!”
Sue quickly learned that the art of being a host parent is to support and encourage, and she loved being able to simply respond to any idea that Antonia wanted to pursue!
“She would drag me to every art gallery there was,” chuckled Sue, “and it was great! That was her interest and I loved getting to do it with her.”
As soon as Antonia was welcomed into Sue’s home, she was just as openly welcomed into the extended family. All Sue’s children live nearby, and since she regularly watched her 9 year old granddaughter after school, Imagine and Antonia became fast friends.
“They truly became like sisters,” remembers Sue.
Coordinator Kathy Kendall loved watching the connection happen between Sue and Antonia.
“It seemed to be exactly the right fit at the right time, for both of them,” recalls Kathy. “Antonia is very mature, and because Sue is so active and loves to travel, Antonia got to have some amazing experiences!”
And Sue was certainly no stranger to the role of tour guide!
“In my work with the Girl Scouts, I love to take groups to visit New York City and Washington DC – every time we visit, it’s like seeing the place through new eyes! It’s fresh to them! So of course I wanted to take Antonia too!”
Antonia got to tag along on Sue’s annual trip to Florida, and when her parents visited at the end of the program, they rented a house at Niagara Falls for a few days.
Sue shared that some of the best moments as a host parent involved simple family activities. Bonfires in the back yard, birthday parties, family dinners.
“It’s truly like gaining a new family member for life,” shares Sue. “We are in constant contact, even though she’s been home for more than a year!”
One highlight of Antonia’s experience was the ability to walk across the stage at graduation.
“Even though exchange students don’t get a diploma, the school uses this as an opportunity to recognize their completion of something big – an exchange year!”
After Antonia returned home, Sue knew she was ready to host again! She opened her home to Prisca from Germany, a younger girl who was different from Antonia in virtually every way, but who stole Sue’s heart none-the-less.
“Prisca’s big dream was to be a cheerleader!” chuckles Sue. “She wanted to live The American Dream, to see what it might be like to live out ‘A High School Musical.'”
Just as she signed up to visit countless art galleries with Antonia, Sue gladly accepted the privilege of helping Prisca discover the American Dream! Prisca WAS accepted into the cheerleading squad, and aside from learning that it was also quite a lot of work, she loved the ability to be part of that group.
“Something I’ve learned about working with teenagers is that it’s a good idea to sometimes just go with the flow – see what their ideas are, how you can support them, and see where that takes you!”
The beautiful truth illustrated by Sue’s experience is that, just as in a natural family where each member is incredibly unique in both passion and personality, each exchange student comes with a unique experience, outlook, and goals. There is no “cookie-cutter” student – which is what makes the process of getting to know them as unique individuals so rewarding!
“For me, it’s all about gaining the lifelong relationship,” shares Sue. “I could never imagine losing touch with either one of these girls! They’re a part of my family now.”
Year after year, students just like Antonia and Prisca join host parents just like Sue – each of them with unique giftings, and each of them ready to embrace a new beginning with an open heart.
Students just like Antonia and Prisca are waiting by the phone, eager to receive the phone call telling them an American host family has said “yes.” That they have been chosen, that they belong.
Would you consider opening your home to one of these beautifully unique students? Like Sue, you may be eternally grateful that you did.
Join the journey. Visit www.ie-usa.org to meet our students and get started today.