Justin Harvey is a 17 year old from Indiana with a love of maps, countries, and especially German culture. As Justin dove into the language in his high school German class, he dreamed of visiting the country he loved. Meanwhile, halfway acround the world in Germany, a young girl named Chantal was eagerly chasing the dream of becoming an exchange student in America. Little did they know that their passions would align, their wishes be granted, and their lives intertwined forever!!
Noelle Harvey, Justin’s mom and Chantal’s host mom, shares that they were a little bit nervous at first about the idea of hosting a girl.
“It’s the idea of having a boy and girl in the house together that at first felt uncomfortable,” she shared. “But our coordinator Dorothee Cooke told us that sometimes it’s better that way, because there isn’t as much pressure to be best friends when you’re hosting someone of the opposite sex. That made sense to us!”
Ultimately, it was Chantal’s video and the many uncanny similarities that made the Harvey family fall in love with her above all the rest of the students they considered. Not only are Chantal and Justin’s birthdays just 5 days apart, they also share many overlapping interests. But perhaps one of the biggest similarities is that they are both “only children.” This means that while they both had a similar family culture growing up, they also both had to face the challenge of acclimating to life with a sibling!
Host mom Noelle feels that their sibling relationship is one of the most special “gains” of their hosting experience, particularly because their relationship as brother/sister is so “normal!”
“They act like brothers and sisters act!” laughed Noelle. “Both of them are only children, so they were able to experience day to day living with all its challenges. They absolutely support one another and definitely have each other’s back – yet at the dinner table they’d be bickering just like brother and sister! I loved it. I grew up in a large family, so I loved to see them experience that too!”
Once the plan was in place for Chantal to come to America, as is to be expected, the nerves set in!
But once she arrived, this first time host family rallied around her like pros. From helping her plug into the school to making her feel welcome at home, the Harvey family quickly found that many small welcoming gestures added up to a big impact for the shy German who had just left everything familiar behind her.
“Before I came to America I was very nervous about the first school day, but it was not bad at all,” remembers Chantal.
“I had a lot of trouble finding my classes at first but my host family walked me through my schedule the day before school started. I don’t think it was very hard for me to adjust in the beginning, because my host family was very understanding and supportive.”
While Chantal was elated to be able to experience life in America, she actually arrived in the States as a very shy and quiet girl.
“She wanted to focus on academics only,” remembers Dorothee, her local coordinator. “I pushed her and the host family completely out of their comfort zone because I told Chantal that she needs to get involved or we’ll have to deal with homesickness in September.”
Heeding Dorothee’s advice, the Harveys helped Chantal join the cross country team, which helped her start to open up. The involvement in sports made a huge difference and the Harveys were able to experience their high school in a different way.
“It is truly amazing how much Chantal has grown,” shares Dorothee. “She is now a somewhat chatty and outgoing, confident young lady. She has gotten out of her comfort zone many many times and it has made her grow… it’s amazing to see the transformation.”
Chantal was also fortunate enough to experience many parts of the country on family trips, but interestingly, it was often the small, simple, “normal” pieces of her experience – like becoming involved in cross country – that made Chantal’s experience so rewarding. Getting to do daily life with a new family in a new school was truly a dream come true for her!
“Even little things that are normal for Americans made me very happy,” remembers Chantal. “I remember the excitement I had before all the cross country races I had, it made me feel like I am part of the school, and my team was always supportive and helped me out.”
Noelle feels her family has benefited in countless ways as well. Their son Justin will get to experience Germany during a 3 week immersion program this summer, and as a family they’ll tour the country and visit Chantal’s family as well. Noelle plans to always stay in touch, because Chantal is now a part of the family!
“It’s better than I expected. About halfway through the year I would call her my host daughter, but now I just call her my daughter,” shares Noelle. Chantal echoed the same sentiment: “I will never forget how important they are to me and we will definitely stay in contact forever, they are part of my family now.”
So, what can a family considering the idea of hosting take away from this story? With a new lifelong family member and many more adventures on the horizon, the pay-off is clear. But what’s the reality of day-to-day life as a host family? How can a family know if this is the right move for them? Noelle feels that anyone who can envision sharing their homes with a student should give it a try.
“If you’re somebody who’s open to exploring new relationships and are excited about sharing what you have and looking at it with new eyes – this is for you!” said Noelle emphatically. “It is like having a new family member – it’s such a joy.”
If you’re ready to learn more about the amazing journey that’s changed the course of countless lives, join us in this mission of student exchange. Check out all the details, peruse current students, or ask for a personal conversation at iE-USA.org