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!

Meet Julian

katie   October 4, 2018   No Comments on Meet Julian

15 year old Julian Schwiers may be far from his German hometown, but he’s quickly found a place all his own right here in Tennessee. Julian and his Spanish host brother Luis are sharing the host home of Shelly and Michael Treen – their second double placement in two years!

“One of my very best experiences was the day my ‘double placement’ (Luis) from Spain arrived,” recalls Julian. “We act like real brothers and have an awesome relationship.”

While the initial adjustment period can be daunting for any exchange student, Julian quickly embraced all that was good about the new life in front of him – meeting neighbors to toss a football in the street, meeting new friends at lunch, or chatting with his host parents (who he says are awesome!)

In fact, one of his most special memories to date was his very first hike with his host family. “It was a very fun time, we laughed a lot, took beautiful pictures, and had a good hike to a waterfall.” Such a simple adventure, yet something that helped him connect so much more meaningfully to the people whose home he would share for the next 9 months.

Like most exchange students, Julian immediately noticed many differences in the school as well, which he embraced with open arms – “fun” class options, different teaching styles, and lots of opportunities for extracurricular activities. And THAT’S where Julian has really settled in as a member of the football team!

“My most amazing experience so far has to be my first Friday night football game, including the parade and everything that goes with it,” remembers Julian. “It was awesome!”

Julian’s weeks are filled with football practice and game-day preparation, and even when he’s not on the field he’s always connected with his team mates. “At lunch we’ll laugh or talk about the next enemy football team we’ll face. After practice we hang out as a team, going to Taco Bell or playing games at somebody’s house.”

But the real culture shock kicked in when Julian saw exactly what “American football” was really all about! The production of the Friday parade, pep rally, and the thrill of playing the game captivated him immediately. School spirit is at an all-time high at these events, and Julian found himself in the middle of an unfamiliar explosion of excitement – but he loved every minute of it.

“It’s an awesome feeling when the normally very tough coaches jump at you, screaming cause your team made the final touchdown,” Julian remembers. “The student section, where all the students stand and scream is freaking out and celebrates with you too!”

That’s one thing he says he’s learned about the United States in general since he began his exchange year: the people here have very strong school spirit, team spirit, and pride as a nation. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning before school, for example, was an unfamiliar concept.

However, Julian has also found that national pride does not equal disinterest in other countries and cultures. He says that one common misconception is that Americans are often focused only on the US and are not interested in other cultures.

“That’s completely wrong!” shares Julian. “People I meet are interested in Europe, in Germany and our family’s life in Germany, our schools, our sports, friends, behavior – everything!”

In the end, one thing Julian is most thankful for is the ongoing support of his host family. They are a haven at the end of a long day of school and practice.

“I appreciate my family time in the US much more,” shares Julian. Time spent eating dinner, chatting, or going for a hike together create a home away from home that he couldn’t live without.

And that’s why host families are the backbone of what we do in student exchange! Their ongoing support is exactly the kind of foundation our students need to thrive.

Bring an Exchange Student Back to School!

It’s back-to-school time across the country. As American students choose colored binders and stock up on pencils, more than 25 exchange students across the world are holding their breath, waiting. 

They wait by the phone, anticipating the news that they have been CHOSEN. Not by a family in some Beverly Hills mansion, not by someone with an extensive travel schedule or budding social life, but simply by a kind heart who will open up their home and say, “you’re welcome here; let’s do this together.”

This school year, consider adding one more item to your “back-to-school” checklist – an exchange student!! 

We are seeking everyday world changers, day-to-day adventurers, and self-proclaimed people-lovers – those open-hearted souls who will dare to say “yes” to this incredible opportunity.

When a family opens their home to host, they’re not just welcoming a student, they’re also opening the door to endless possibilities! The enrichment your family will experience is beyond measure. 

Susan Peebles is a professional in the field of English as a Second Language, and as a result of working with people across many backgrounds, she has come to cherish the opportunity to host.

“We learn the most when we experience things out of our comfort zone,” shares Susan. “Taking risks to help others experience their dreams is a rewarding experience. Go for it! You’ve really got nothing to lose and you have everything to gain!”

Host families gain a new international son or daughter for LIFE – opening the door to a real relationship, meaningful connection, growth and travel opportunities… not to mention the incredible benefit for the whole family as they embark on a new adventure in communication, empathy, and service!

Are you ready to learn more? Check out more information at iE-USA.org. We’d love to get to know you!


Debunking 10 Common Objections to Hosting

Everyone seems to agree: hosting an exchange student is enriching, rewarding, and so very fun!  So why do so many people push the pause button?

Like anything else, hosting an exchange student comes with a common list of assumptions and misconceptions. But these “reasons” not to host are not only misguided, they just might be holding you back from the experience of a lifetime!

Let us demystify the hosting experience by debunking some common myths! Do you find yourself saying, “We’d love to host an exchange student BUT….

1) “We can’t afford it!”

Teen activities can get expensive!! (Right?) But what if your new international son or daughter actually paid for themselves? (Whew!!) 

Exchange students come with their own spending money and medical insurance, meaning all those sports fees, school supplies, clothes, souvenirs, travel expenses, sprained ankles, allergy medicines, cups of coffee and trips to the movies are NOT your concern. Host families provide “room and board,” help with transportation, and the support of a family – so aside from a slight hike in your grocery bill and a little more gas in the tank, most families find the extra expense is negligible.

And let’s look at this another way…

When weighing the invaluable gains your family will receive from hosting (cultural connection, awareness, personal development, growth, change, laughs, memories), what other experience could hope to compare while simultaneously being nearly FREE?

2) “We plan to travel this year, so we can’t host! What would we do with the student?”

These days, just about everyone is traveling on a semi-regular basis, but that doesn’t have to derail your plans to host!

Option A: Take them with you! Many students are able to pay for their own airfare and share in the cost of the hotel, and what an amazing opportunity for them to see more of the country!

Option B: Let us help! What if the student could stay with a friend or another host family while you are away? And what if we could help coordinate those details? You’ll have a dedicated local coordinator for this very reason.

Bottom line: there’s no reason to let a few weeks of travel disrupt an amazing opportunity.

3) “What if there are problems, like the student not understanding our family’s rules about curfews, dating, or expectations about chores and homework? We’ve heard horror stories… We can’t manage that all year!”

Well, in our experience, insurmountable problems are absolutely the exception, not the rule.

This is kind of like saying, “I’d love to let my athletically gifted son play football, but I hear he could get injured!” With any adventure there is always a certain amount of risk, but there is also the opportunity for massive reward. You pick! 🙂

But seriously… what if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation? What if there are issues with adjusting? What if there are behavioral challenges? That’s what the exchange program is for! That’s why you have an on-the-ground local coordinator ready to chat any day of the week, and why you have the support of an entire team of problem-solvers at your disposal.


We take your partnership seriously, and we have extremely high standards for our students… backed by a disciplinary plan and a support staff that won’t let problems go unresolved. We’ll help guide you through the minor bumps you may face along the way, and we have a tried-and-true system for navigating larger issues as well. As a last resort, as a volunteer host family, you DO have the opportunity to say “this just isn’t working for us.” If working through roadblocks with your local coordinator’s support just isn’t cutting it, we can move the student to a new home.

Bottom line: You’ll never be stuck.

4) “Our home is too small!” or “We live in an apartment!”

Many of our students are from countries where tighter living spaces are expected. Have you ever been to Europe? Apartments are the norm for many families!

When it comes to your home, size is not important. (Truly!) And if you’d like to host but are short on bedrooms, your student can even share a bunk-bed with one of your own children. Just be sure their roommate is of the same gender and is relatively close in age!

5) “We don’t have any kids of our own! Won’t the student be lonely?”

Exchange students need the support of a FAMILY – whether that’s one person, two people, or the Brady Bunch.

How many people are in your family? It truly doesn’t matter… because numbers don’t matter as much as heart. Your student doesn’t need a budding social life right in their own living room. (They’ll meet friends at school and can stay plenty busy with extracurricular activities.) What they DO need is someone, even just one person, to say “I’m here for you, you belong with me… let’s do this together.”


Just remember, not all exchange students are extroverted social butterflies! Some will actually PREFER a quiet home. (And we can help match you with that student!) 

Still thinking it’d be nice to give your student a built-in wing-man? Consider hosting two at the same time!

Exchange students who share a “double placement” in the same home love having a peer to lock arms with, and YOU’LL love the “instant family” vibe that’s created when two teens walk through the door.

6) “We don’t have the time or the patience to try to figure out the language barrier!”

Good news! All our students have a tested level of English proficiency before coming on exchange, and many of them are fluent (or getting there). Want to know the even BETTER news? With apps like Google Translator and Babblefish, you’ll never be left guessing. (Technology for the win!) 

And, let’s look at this “problem” from another angle! When there IS a language barrier, when you DO struggle to understand one another (because those moments will happen!) – what if you embraced it as a profound opportunity for growth? Your whole family will learn patience, empathy, and stronger communication skills. What a gift!

7) “We’ve got some home remodeling going on right now, so we’ll have to put it off for later! We wouldn’t want our guest to have to live in the mess!”

Ok. If you’ve gutted the kitchen and bath and are camping in the backyard, then yes, this could be an issue. But if you’re just updating the living room, swapping paint colors, fixing the roof, adding some landscaping, doing some drywall… no problem!

You might be gawking at the screen right now: “REALLY? You want me to host a guest while our house is torn up in remodel?”

The key thing to realize here is that hosting a student isn’t really the same as hosting a GUEST – it’s more like adopting another family member for a year! So WHATEVER your family has planned, whether it’s remodeling or traveling or community service or just chilling on the couch… your student wants to be included in that. It’s all part of their unique, real-life immersion experience! (And BONUS, maybe they’ll learn a thing or two right along with you! Pictured here: two students help the Upchurch family with their roofing project; a fun family bonding activity!) 

8) “Our kids are very young! Shouldn’t I wait to host until they’re older?”

This is perhaps the most common misconception kicked around by potential host families, and it’s tragic… because they are MISSING OUT!!

Do you take your younger children on trips, enroll them in ballet or karate lessons, or teach them a musical instrument? If you’re excited about engaging your young kids in those enriching activities, just apply that same perspective to hosting a student, and you’ll get it!

Hosting an exchange student when your own children are young comes with so many advantages. For starters, you’ll expose them to another culture and language at an early age, when they’re still soaking up life like a sponge. Their view of the world will become so much bigger as a result of their new sibling, who they’ll likely view as a role model.


And what’s more, hosting when your children are younger will naturally dodge some common issues with jealousy and sibling rivalry that can pop up with older children  –  things like competition over grades, social status, sports ranking, and so on.  There’s no wrong time to host; and when your children are young is actually one of the BEST times to say yes to this formative experience.

9) “We are SO busy! We will never have time for the student!”

You’re one of those really busy families? PERFECT!

Most of the time, this “busy” family lifestyle is exactly the kind of environment where an active student will THRIVE! A student who is BUSY is far less likely to become homesick, and families who are on-the-go tend to naturally build a close family bond and a positive rapport.

The trick is to find the right student for your family – someone who is interested in the activities you’re doing anyway! Find yourself constantly at the soccer field? Great, let’s find you a soccer player! Marching band competitions every weekend? Awesome, let’s find you a musician! It may sound a little “braggy,” but the truth is we’re experts at finding just the right student who will adore the chance to slide right into your version of “busy.” Whatever you have going on, it’s an absolute dream come true for SOMEONE.

Sound too perfect? Ok, you’re right, sometimes your schedules may not gel exactly as planned… but when there ARE scheduling conflicts, don’t worry!

Carpooling, riding the bus, or getting a ride from a friend are simple solutions and 100% OK for your student as well. And they’ll learn valuable lessons in planning and independence in the process!

10) “We’re not a traditional family – so a student might not be comfortable in our home.”

Is there even such a thing as a “traditional” family these days? Aren’t we all incredibly unique? We’ve placed thousands of students with thousands of families, and we can confidently tell you: you are the PERFECT host family for SOMEONE. 

We tend to think exchange students are all cut from the same cloth, but that’s simply not true. Students are just as diverse as host families, and there is a student out there waiting and hoping for a host home just like yours. We have had amazing experiences with families of all shapes and sizes, including singles, couples without kids, empty-nesters or retirees, same-sex partners, single parent families, home-school families, as well as “traditional” public school families with children of all ages.

Just think about it. If we found the right student who would LOVE what YOU bring to the table… would you want to meet them? If you’re interested in a sneak peak, check out our student finder at iE-USA.org!

So, what do you think? Do these reasons resonate with you? Trust me, we get it!

If you’ve been peeking at the idea of hosting an exchange student but you’ve been camping out in one or more of the above “reasons not to host,” I want to encourage you to stop focusing on what won’t work for you and start dreaming about what will. What could YOUR family gain from hosting a student? With the right match and some experienced support, THOSE are the reasons that will lead you into the experience of a lifetime… and all of these logistical concerns will start to melt away.

Are you ready to talk to a local coordinator? Are you ready to envision YOUR experience? Connect with us at iE-USA.org!

10 Reasons to Host an Exchange Student

Why host an exchange student? Our tight-knit band of cultural adventurers agree – when they opened their homes to host, they GAINED so much more than they gave.

Are you ready for a life-changing adventure, right in your own living room? Consider these 10 reasons why hosting an exchange student may just be the very best decision you ever make:

1) Gain a new family member

No, really.

Sound too good to be true? It isn’t! So many of our host parents say they truly feel like they have a new son or daughter, and a bond that will last a lifetime. For many, it’s like adopting an international teen for a year… then enjoying a close connection with their “international in-laws” ever after.

“From the day Javier arrived, it has been an amazing experience! Our relationship has grown so close, it does seem like he is a member of our family. We have shared so many experiences, some wonderfully positive and some that have been learning experiences. Every experience has made the bond between us stronger. His mother has told us on several occasions that we have a Spanish son for the rest of our lives, and we expect that to be true.” – Lynn from Michigan

2) Cultivate life-long friendships

Exchange is an open door to a lifetime of connection… with your student, their family, and their world across the sea. When you open that door you just may find friendships taking you places you never imagined.

“We’ve visited several of our students in their home countries. But to me those trips aren’t about just being a tourist. It’s more like going to see a family member.” – Ranelle from Colorado


3) Learn about the world from a new perspective

Have you ever thought about how much our own cultural perspective shapes our view of the world? Exchange students help us see through new eyes. What an extra special gift to children, who are just learning how to make sense of the world around them. When they learn to love someone different from themselves and to see through their eyes, they become empowered to see the world in a new way.

“Through my education and teaching people with different cultures and ways of thinking, I saw the influence of my own culture for the first time. I realized experiencing ‘differences’ were opportunities to learn and I wanted to surround myself with them.” – Susan from Indiana

4) Energize your daily routine

Want laughs? Host an exchange student. Want to find adventures in the small things? Host an exchange student. Want to see your mundane “normal” through fresh eyes, to celebrate the mediocre, to engage your life in a new way? HOST AN EXCHANGE STUDENT! 

“We were surprised to find how much we loved sharing our daily lives with a student, and it made us appreciate the little things so much more!” – Dan from Michigan

5) Give a gift to your family, community, and the world

Consider this. An exchange student who spends a school year in the United States is going to be changed forever. They will grow in confidence, resilience, social and emotional empathy, and communication, just to name a few. When you host, the gift you give that one curious international teen is beyond priceless. It will literally change the course of their future.

But what about the course of your family’s future? What about your community? What about this giant world we share? Hosting an exchange student is one of those grass-roots endeavors that fosters connection and understanding that can create a ripple-effect of good in the world. It brings people together. It closes the cultural gap. It creates an environment in which our children, teachers, classmates, and neighbors learn to see differently. And when we truly see one another, amazing things can happen. And it happens brick-by-brick, one meaningful relationship at at time.

“Bringing exchange students into the school adds perspective to the classroom. I wish more of our kids could go on exchange themselves, but for most that’s just not an option right now. The only way they can get exposure to the world and develop global awareness is to have people from different countries come to them. In my classroom, we talk about global issues, like global warming. I tell my students that these issues effect the whole world, so they require a different perspective. And when students learn alongside international students, they start thinking about the world differently.” – Texas Dean of Students Erik Ostergren

6) Improve your communication skills & learn a new language

How do you say “thank you very much” in Thai? What’s the best way to give a compliment in German? Find out, and have so much fun doing it!

“We often compared our different cultures and continents.  We would pick a word and learn it in German, Chinese, Spanish & French. We all cooked for each other, learning about the different foods.” – Kreena from Illinois

7) Connect with people in your community

Your local exchange coordinator. Other host families. Your student’s choir teacher, school friends, soccer coach. The great thing about hosting an exchange student is “it takes a village,” and so many families love finding new friendships in the process.

“We knew we’d have fun with our exchange student, but we didn’t expect to have so much fun getting to know the other host families! What a blast!” – Jennifer from Georgia

8) Rediscover local attractions

If you had a visitor from Germany coming next week to enjoy YOUR town, what would you want to show them? Many host families find that they relish the opportunity to show off local culture and history, from picking apples to ice skating to civic theater in the park… their “sleepy normal life” takes on new excitement when an exchange student is in the mix!

“We loved showing our students around. Even “normal” places like Taco Bell were exciting to them, and they would say “cool, that’s just so American!” It was hilarious, and made us all realize we really are sitting amidst a million fun things to do, if we put on new eyes to see them!” – Ann from Indiana

9) Develop & understand international perspectives

What better way to learn to see differently than by engaging with someone who SEES DIFFERENTLY. When we turn off the news, put away our Facebook feeds, and sit across the table from someone who’s lived a whole life in a culture different from ours, amazing things can happen.

“We learn the most when we experience things out of our comfort zone,” shares Susan. “Taking risks to help others experience their dreams is a rewarding experience. Go for it! You’ve really got nothing to lose and you have everything to gain!” – Susan from Indiana

10) Give your younger kids an instant BEST show and tell ever

Did you know your younger kids may be the BEST reason to host an exchange student? Elementary age children adore their international “big brother” or “big sister,” and they will carry the lessons learned in empathy and understanding with them throughout their lifetime.

“I thought it would feel a little weird having someone other than family in our house all of the time, but it’s not weird at all. She feels like she really is part of our family.” – Emily, age 11

Are you ready to jump in? Check out iE-USA.org to connect and learn more.

We Say YES

katie   July 27, 2018   No Comments on We Say YES

From the outside looking in, a family’s decision to host an exchange student may seem like a logistical mystery. Most families in our culture would say they feel busy, or at the very least “full,” with their own schedules and their own children… so what on earth motivates them to add yet another person to the mix? Host families say “yes” to room and board, “yes” to extra trips in the car, “yes” to misunderstandings, homesickness, adjustment. They say “yes” to an extra teen who eats all the cereal, “yes” to a boy who forgets to take out the trash, “yes” to a girl taking an impossibly long time in the bathroom to primp for a dance.

And WHY?

Perhaps the answer lies in all the OTHER things a host family says “yes” to. All those “things” which aren’t things, but which are priceless none-the-less:

“Yes” to relationship

“Yes” to connection

“Yes” to purpose, meaning, and service

“Yes” to cultural awareness

“Yes” to inspiration for their children

“Yes” to broadening horizons

“Yes” to lifelong family in another country

“Yes” to an open door

“Yes” to seeing everything with fresh eyes

“Yes” to forever memories

“Yes” to hilarious moments

“Yes” to heartfelt gratitude

And the list could go on and on (and on…)

Every year, we hear stories of host families who feel they’ve gained the world by hosting.

Often, it’s the small, insignificant every-day details of daily life that grip them by the heart and won’t let go. Chuckling at his first English joke. Watching as proud parents at her first soccer game. Smiling in delight when he sees his first snow-fall. Teasing around the dinner table.


“We are better people because of the time with our student in our family. If you like kids, consider hosting. You’re making a difference in someone’s life. Just be warned – they’re going to get under your skin and attached to your heartstrings.” – Host Mom Kelly Feulner

These are the things that parents of our past students say will stay with them always.

These are the things that prompt so many to jump in and do it again.

And these are the things that you won’t possibly see from the outside looking in… but mark my words, they’re there, and they’re the unstoppable, powerful, life-changing force behind this work we do call student exchange.

If you’re considering hosting, I’d encourage you to look deep enough to see what’s really happening in these special relationships. I’d encourage you to ask yourself if you’re ready to say “yes” to that list above… and if so, I’d encourage you to JUMP IN. You’ll make an enormous difference in a student’s life, and you might just find YOUR life will never be the same again.

Ready for a story of your own? Join us at IE-USA.org.

Double Placement… Twice as Nice!

The Peebles hosted their first student with International Experience in 2015, and while every experience has redeeming elements, their first hosting relationship didn’t feel entirely fulfilling.  However, knowing that the magic happens with “the right fit,” their experienced local coordinator Dorothee Cooke presented a new idea. What if they gave it another try under completely fresh circumstances? So this dynamic couple committed to hosting not one but TWO exchange students in 2017, and they’ve been thrilled with the outcome!

“It has been such an honor to work with the Peebles again,” shared Dorothee Cooke, their local coordinator, “and I’m glad they’re so happy with their experience!”

Dorothee shared that the Peebles are natural host parents, always eager to really engage and learn. Susan Peebles has a particular soft spot for internationals, which was first awaked in college teaching English to Vietnamese refugees. Years later, seeking a new path, Susan discovered she could make a career out of her former hobby. She was able to get a graduate certificate in TESOL and teach English to speakers of other languages – fulfilling the dream that began years before.

“Through my education and teaching people with different cultures and ways of thinking,” shares Susan, “I learned a lot about myself. I saw the influence of my own culture for the first time. I realized experiencing ‘differences’ were opportunities to learn and I wanted to surround myself with them.”

Susan’s newfound awareness led her and her husband David to take a look at hosting an exchange student. Seeking opportunities to “experience differences” became part of their norm, and hosting naturally fit right into the mix.

While there have been surprises and challenges along the way, Susan shares that it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience that they wouldn’t trade for the world.

“I feel like I have two more daughters! They are both beautiful girls, very different from each other and it’s been neat to see how they bonded as sisters despite their great differences.”

Everyone agreed that the students, Gesche from Germany and Blanca from Spain, were different as night and day – but they fell into a sibling relationship that was an encouragement to both of them, and a joy for the Peeble’s to witness.

“It was very weird at first,” remembers Blanca, “but after a while we got used to each other, and then it was just like having a new sister!”

The girls made plans to visit one another in their home countries after their exchange year is over, and Gesche believes Blanca played just as big a role in her success as any other factor.

“My amazing host family (including Blanca!) is what made this year so special,” shared Gescha.

Susan agrees that the interaction between the 4 of them – David, herself, Gescha and Blanca – absolutely made their hosting experience that much sweeter.

“I’ll always remember the unique personalities of the girls,” shares Susan.  “It’s amazing how different they are, yet they became sisters who love each other very much. It feels good to have been a part of that.”

The Peebles remain committed to the idea of ongoing “diversity training,” and as someone who spends a lot of time interacting with people of different cultures, Susan recommends hosting as one of the most basic ways to jump in.

“We learn the most when we experience things out of our comfort zone,” shares Susan. “Taking risks to help others experience their dreams is a rewarding experience. Go for it! You’ve really got nothing to lose and you have everything to gain!”

Are you ready to go for it too? Check out more information at iE-USA.org. We’d love to get to know you!

Big Brother Nico

katie   July 10, 2018   No Comments on Big Brother Nico

When Tricia Lee was a child, she loved having an exchange student in the home. Now that she is a mom of four children, she’s choosing the same adventure for her family! The Lee family in Minnesota has hosted a total of 4 exchange students, the most recent being Nico from Spain, who has become a true big brother!

“You really do make life-long relationships with your exchange students,” shares host mom Tricia. “I think anyone who’s interested should take a chance and build a connection with someone in a different country, because they will see the world in a different way!”

Connection is truly what’s made the exchange year a dream come true for Nico, who says that it was the people who made the experience great.


“I made many new friends while experiencing this new culture,” said Nico, “and of course I had an amazing time with my host family, who gave me everything!”

Tricia says that Nico has become a light in their family, with a unique relationship to each person.

“If you have little kids, it’s even better,” shares Tricia, “because children have a special bond that can be so formative.” This was particularly true of Nico’s host sister, 11 year old Ella, who quickly became Nico’s buddy.  “She doesn’t miss him right this second,” shared Tricia, “but she will.”

Tricia shared that one of the highlights of the hosting experience was watching Nico become comfortable enough to make jokes. When he learned that his host dad Dustin was a COO at his company, Nico chuckled. “You’re the boss at work?” he said, “Well… you’re the employee here, and Tricia is the boss! Tricia is the boss and Ella is the boss!” Everyone laughed, and “Tricia is the boss” became a running joke for the remainder of their time together.


Nico shares that his time with the Lees was a dream come true, but there was one particular memory that was an unexpected thrill!

Nico’s local coordinator, Lori Wolf, knew that his dream was to become a surgeon.

“As a child, Nico spent a lot of time in the hospital with scoliosis,” shared Lori, “and that’s what made him want to become a surgeon, to give back.”

Lori was so touched by Nico’s story and so impressed by his maturity that she arranged a connection with her neighbor, who was a chief of surgery at a nearby hospital.

“This kid is committed to becoming a surgeon,” shared Lori. “He even sews his bananas closed to practice!”

Though shadowing a major surgery is NOT a normal practice, Lori’s neighbor was also impressed by Nico’s spirit and determination, and he made a generous exception! He invited Nico to sit in on two spine surgeries, which utterly changed his life.

“It was the best day of my life,” shares Nico, “and I could not possibly say thank you enough for it!”

Lori said that it was easy to go out of her way to do things like that for Nico, because he is the kind of student who gives 100% to everything. He is the kind of person who’s always trying to encourage those around him, always joking around, always making people laugh.

Host mom Tricia agrees, and she has become an advocate for student exchange in her community.

“Nico was very respectful, and most of the kids are. I have always encouraged everyone to host if they can; it’s such a gift to be able to give someone, and in return they are a wonderful gift with their memories, with their experiences that they can bring to the table.”

Could you imagine welcoming a unique and enthusiastic student like Nico? We are actively seeking host families for many more students for the 2018/19 school year. Check us out and join the journey at iE-USA.org!

Share YOUR America!

How will YOU celebrate this 4th of July? Did you know that there are many exchange students still awaiting a host home? These young men and women dream of the opportunity to soak up American culture – to shadow you and see what life is like in your shoes! This year, why not share YOUR America with an exchange student!

In a recent poll, iE host parents all seem to agree: the best part of hosting a student is helping them discover everything there is to love about our country! Below are just a few of their insights!

As you celebrate Independence Day, we’d like to invite you to consider what YOUR story looks like – and how sharing YOUR America could be a bonding experience and a timely thrill, both for your family and for an excited international teen!

“I love seeing the excitement when they do something that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do at home.”  – Tina Nolan

“We loved watching him eat a Twinkie for the first time!” – Terrence McFadden

“It’s fun to introduce our student to new experiences and extended family!  Seeing things through his eyes made us appreciate them in a different way.”  – Pamela Anderson

“The best memories are from traveling together as a family, showing our student cities like Charleston, Chicago, Boston, D.C., and Disney.  Watching our student grow as a young adult was truly amazing!” – Jocelyn Griner

“We loved teaching our student games of any type.  Family game night was a hit!” – Andrea Steffes

“We had so much fun spending Christmas with our student and sharing our customs.” – Melissa Nelson

“There’s something so special about touring parts of the country with someone who is new to the experience and who truly enjoys and appreciates it.”  – Marti Walstrom

“Sharing our home, our lifestyle and our chemistry as a family was rewarding for us. Showing him our culture, our church, our community and our region gave us great pride and joy.” – David Nelson

What will YOUR favorite memory be? Start the journey at iE-USA.org!

A BROTHER for the Ginnan Girls!

Kimberly Ginnan has fond memories of hosting an exchange student when she was a child, so she knew she wanted to  provide the same experience for her three girls. When the Ginnan’s oldest daughter Gillian was in high school, they decided the time was right! After careful consideration they agreed to host Tim from Germany – giving the girls a BROTHER for life!

While the Ginnan family had enjoyed a 3 week hosting experience the summer before, they quickly found that hosting Tim for the school year felt a lot more like adopting a family member instead of simply housing a guest. And the sibling dynamic that evolved is one evidence of this deeper relationship!

“All the girls enjoyed having a brother,” shares Kimberly. “Gillian and Tim definitely have become siblings. They give each other a hard time yet spend so much time together.”

Tim agreed that he’s enjoyed the opportunity to gain three new sisters, which has formed much of his American experience!

“Having sisters was so funny!” remembers Tim. “Of course it was hard sometimes, but overall I am so happy that I had sisters, because I learned how to react as a boy when girls have problems.”

If exchange is all about gaining new perspectives and life lessons, “how to interact well with girls” is at the top of Tim’s list!

But the Ginnan’s generosity was more than about sibling comeradery – they gave legs to his dream to be an exchange student, and in-so-doing they enabled him to grow into another version of himself.

“This experience changed me,” shares Tim. “I grew so much as a person. For example, now I love to eat different kinds of foods, because I am open to these new experiences. My personality was not that open before.”

And while Tim was being changed, he was out there changing his local community too – one conversation at a time.

“Tim has been a wonderful ambassador for Germany and for iE,” shares Dorothee Cooke, Tim’s local coordinator. “He has talked in front of the school in his Lederhosen and spoke in Dutch and German to the school community.”

The Ginnans agree that  Tim has made a lasting impression on them as well.

“We have had a wonderful time getting to know Tim and learning about his family and culture,” remembers Kimberly.  “We have cooked some German meals, played a German board game, and have heard lots of stories.”

One common theme the Ginnans share with many other host families is a general appreciation for the small, daily interactions that make exchange so “normal” – and yet so wonderful.

“My favorite memory is riding with Tim from soccer practice or games and it was just the two of us,” shares Kimberly. “We learned so much about each other’s families and lives.”

Tim agreed that the very act of experiencing what “normal” looks like in America was one of his biggest thrills. For instance, the “school spirit” that is so common in pep rallies and football games is a cultural phenomenon that many exchange students see only in movies before they arrive. It’s new and exciting to get swept up in the momentum and comaradery!

“Once when I was at a football game, everyone was extremely cheering for our team,” remembers Tim. “This was such an awesome experience, because I never saw something like that before!”

Tim’s exchange year has come to a close, but its impact continues. As a fantastic student and honor achiever, Tim plans to return to America next year to participate in an International Baccalaureate program. He is so thankful to his host family for giving him this opportunity that has literally changed his life.

“I have to say thank you to my host family!” says Tim “because I had such a great experience!”

The Ginnans look forward to continued connection with Tim and his natural family. In fact, they’re already making plans for Gillian to get an inside tour of Europe!

“Tim’s family invited the host sister to come to Germany with Tim, and they will travel with her!” shares local coordinator Dorothee. “They’ll see the Alps, Hamburg, France, Netherlands…all over the place! It’s amazing how often the natural families give back to host families!”

Sometimes, a 10 month hosting experience is just the beginning.

Sometimes, the life you set out to change ends up being your own.

Curious about learning more?

Join the journey at www.ie-usa.org!