How two “only children” gained a sibling for LIFE!

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



Bienvenido, Maria!

When the Brennan family was asked to consider hosting an exchange student – again – they were understandably hesitant. A previous hosting experience hadn’t been quite what they expected, and while it was “good” in many ways, it was also a significant adjustment. Could this time be different?

Maria game photoAfter picking up their host daughter Maria from Spain, they quickly discovered this was a match made in heaven. The Brennans found an eager and engaged student who truly became a part of the family, faster than you can say “Bienvenido!” One attribute the Brennans particularly love about their new Spanish daughter is her sense of adventure.

“Maria is the perfect person to do an exchange like this,” shares host mom Ann-Marie, “because she’s up for just about anything! In fact, Rob (host dad) and I kid that if we said to Maria ‘Hey, next Saturday do you want to go crocodile wrestling with us??’ She’d probably say something like, ‘sure, I’ve never done that before!’

Maria statue of libertyWhile extreme animal-wrestling has never made the cut, the Brennans have enjoyed many experiences with Maria.

“Because she’s just so open to everything, we’ve done a lot!” remembers Ann-Marie.

The family is preparing a printed photo book for Maria to take home, featuring highlights like their spring break trip visiting family in Philadelphia, a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and of course their visit to Niagara Falls.

“I don’t know how many pages they’re gonna give us,” says Ann-Marie, “but they’re gonna have to double it!”

Ann-Marie and Robert Brennan have three boys of their own, so they never anticipated hosting a girl! But what they’ve found is that Maria’s easy-going nature is the perfect complement to her new host brothers.

“She gets along great with all the boys,” shares Ann-Marie, “and they tease and joke around like real siblings. It’s really fun to see.”

Maria promMaria, who is just finishing her finals and preparing to return to Spain, agrees.

“I felt so nice, since the first time that we met, I felt like we had something in common. I always felt like I was at home.”

It could be that Maria was able to slide into the Brennan family so easily as a result of the fact that she comes from a family with one brother and no sisters! “I’m used to a brother, having a sister always felt like it would be really strange, so it was nice!”

Local Coordinator Dorothee Cooke recalls how sweet it’s been watching such a special student connect with an equally special host family – she has become the daughter they never had!

“They weren’t sure they wanted to host again, but they were sold on Maria once they saw her video,” remembers Dorothee. “Now Robert and Maria have established the most wonderful father/daughter relationship, and Ann-Marie has gone out of her way to take care of Maria’s specific food needs (she is gluten free) – you can tell they both love their new daughter deeply!” 

Maria niagara fallsMaria shares that one of her mottos as an exchange student has been to “always say YES.” This philosophy has led her on many adventures!

“I loved the statue of liberty – and Niagara Falls was cool, I kept thinking to myself, “oh my gosh it’s like a movie!” I’m just so excited everywhere I go.”

Maria’s adventurous spirit has also helped her see the “magic” in the day-to-day. Every new activity, all of the things that the Brennan boys may take for granted, became fresh and new.

“Easter baskets, Christmas traditions, Halloween – my older kids are kind of over these things sometimes, but Maria would just say ‘OH THIS IS SO AMERICAN!’ She had a fresh eye on those normal traditions. Those things we’d done forever were suddenly brand new.”

As an experienced host mom who has now had two very different experiences, Ann-Marie says the experience is absolutely worth it.

“I would just tell anyone who’s considering it to give it a try! Just be open! Be open to the exchange back and forth, and the creativity that comes from talking and sharing about different ways of doing something.”

Maria with host family in woods


A Letter to Next Year’s Exchange Students

German exchange student Lorena Schraub visited Texas in 2013/14. Like most exchange students, acclimating to American culture was both thrilling and sometimes exhausting! In the letter below, she shares her experiences in order to pass on her wisdom to the next generation of students eagerly awaiting their flight to the U.S. Enjoy her candor, her humor, and her excitement in the every day discoveries!

Lorena 8

There are two things I realized very fast when I came to Texas. The first one was: They overuse their air conditioner. When I heard that I got a host familyin Texas, I got really excited. I always wanted to be in a very warm area of the country so I mainly had shorts, dresses and tops with me. The first time we went out to a restaurant I was so cold that we needed to get our blanket out of the car.


The second thing I realized: The inhabitants of Texas (or the US in general) LOVE their country! They are very proud of being American which you can see every morning at school. We opened every school day and also every football game with the pledge of allegiance.

School is also very different. The classes were very easy but it was necessary to spend a lot of time on homework and projects. I also wanted to be part of the marching band which was very hard at the beginning. It was hot outside, we played difficult songs, I had to learn the marching choreography and we practiced every day before or after school for two hours and had a performance every weekend.Lorena 7

As you can see, there were a lot of people in our band. I really enjoyed being part of it and I found almost all of my friends in band.

When I wasn’t at school, I mainly spend time with my host family. My family consists of my host parents, their daughter and their two Chinese daughters (they are adopted).

I always remember TerrLorena 6y Scofield, my iE interviewer, saying: “The host families never know who they chose. You are like a Überraschungsei [surprise] with two suitcases and they don’t know what’s going to happen.“ I think we all got along pretty good together even though we were 6 persons from 3 countries. But this is also a typical American thing. There are so many different nationalities, and I think half of the students at my school had Mexican roots. But I also met other (exchange) students from Spain, PuLorena 5erto Rico, Australia and many more countries, so I also learned a lot about their cultures!

The American culture is also distinguished by the fact that everything is bigger. One example is our church. There were so many people going to one church that they were able to offer 3 services at the same time and also 3 times a day (Sunday). Here you can see other examples why I sometimes felt very tiny in Texas… do you see those enormous boots?

Lorena 3There are also important events that are celebrated way more than in Germany. For example: Halloween and Thanksgiving. My host mom spent many nights on designing and making my host sister’s minion costume. It was such a fun experience to go from house to house and see the crazy decorations.

And of course we also got pumpkins and everybody was able to carve their own.


Lorena 1One of the first things you probably connect with Texas is a cowboy. A real Texan exchange student has to be a cowboy or cowgirl for at least a day. Here you can see!

Boots, belt, hat and of course a horse in the middle of nowhere so you can perfectly take a ride. One more interesting fact is that Texas is twice as big as Germany.

Lorena 2

Places, friends and family live very far away sometimes, so a 5-hour-car ride is something very normal. We even drove up to North Carolina which was a 21 hour ride.

These are my experiences. I hope you will make great experiences too and can tell many fun stories of your time abroad!


Could you imagine opening up your every day life to an exchange student? You could make a world of difference to one special student just like Lorena. Learn more at

Empty-Nesters Find Global FAMILY Through Exchange!

John and Ranelle Ladbury have hosted for 5 years, and they’ve already signed up to do it again next year! What brings them back year after year? With their own triplets grown and out of the house, this empty-nest couple found that their home (and their hearts) had room to spare. Because of this, the Ladburys often host two students at once!

We interviewed this remarkable couple, and it’s a joy to share their inspiring responses!

What made you decide to host?

ladbury crazy handThis is a long story that starts with hosting a sweet girl from Bavaria for a few weeks, then two great new students the next year, followed by a business trip where I met up with an old friend who just happened to have a sister that was looking for host families.

Our triplets had graduated high school, we had room, we loved and kept in touch with our three German students we had hosted previously as a short-term arrangement, and the next thing we know we had a girl flying in from Montenegro (which we had never heard of before) and another from Italy. 

How do you feel the act of SHARING your life with another has impacted YOU?

Our world is now much smaller. We have gone from people who knew a little about other countries to people who worry whenever there are earthquakes in Italy, flooding in Germany, droughts in South Africa, mass demonstrations in Turkey…all because we now KNOW people there.  

Would you say hosting a student is “work”? Is it “fun”?

Ladburys by a rock

Well, when your new daughter is having a tough day, and you go to give her a hug, and she cries and says “My dad’s never given me a hug before,” it’s not work, but it’s not fun either. It’s the creation of a lifelong bond, and a moment in my life and in my heart that I will never forget. She is now very much my little girl. 

Of course, there are times when it is fun… like driving down the highway with a car full of kids who, for some reason, start singing This Squirrel is on Fire.

Have there been surprises?

Of course. Like when we were having pizza and our girl from Montenegro starts putting ketchup on it, and our girl from Italy tells her “DO NOT DO THIS.” 🙂 

We often talk about how our host families are “volunteers.” Do you feel “volunteerism” is an appropriate title for hosting a student?

Ladbury party smallI guess I never really thought of it as volunteering. I pictured volunteering as doing something I really don’t want to do, like volunteering to clean up after the dog, or to pick up trash in the neighborhood. This is something I WANTED to do. Picking out students who love some of the same things I do. Waiting to hear from them. The first email. The first video call. Waiting for them to arrive. Meeting them for the first time at the airport.

But if someone asks if I want to do this again, I would definitely ‘volunteer.’

How has your DAILY LIFE changed since hosting?

While we host, there is a little more time spent driving, helping them to deal with problems. Once they go back home, you just notice the things that remind you of them. A special song comes on the radio, you see a unicorn or Snoopy or something sparkly, and you get transported back. We scheduled our weekends around video calls so we can keep in touch. And the kids keep us young. Withoutu them, I never would have heard of Bronies (look it up… it’s worth it), I would know nothing of European soccer (which I am told is the TRUE football), and we would never have known the pleasures of eating Raclette. 

How has hosting enriched your lives, as well as the life of your student?

Ranelle with girlsWe now have family all over the world, and we are much more aware of what is happening all over. We marvel at how similar our lives are compared to the lives of our families, but we are just as amazed by the differences. 

Every one of our students has grown from the experience (although one brother said the only change he noticed in his sister was that she had more kilos…sigh). We have had parents tell us how much more their children are willing to try… new foods, new experiences. They are more confident.

Another gift that exchange has given us is extended family. Several of our German families that we have visited, have said we are family and we’re not brothers and sisters. 

Through hosting, the Ladburys have altered the course of their lives, forever. They’ve added daughters and sons and family across the sea… they’ve changed their worldview and expanded their influence. In just a short time, they’ve created a new legacy while relishing the daily “ups and downs” of real relationships.

THIS is student exchange. Join the Journey at

Ladbury balloons


A Fit Like Family

When Maggie Stephenson was hired to supervise a student placement, she had no idea what was in store!  What she found was a connection to a young Spanish girl that was as strong as family.

maggie 2“Loreto comes to my house every Sunday, she spent Easter with us, I helped her get ready for prom,” shares Maggie. “She’s really like one of the family!”

Maggie’s 5 adult children have all “adopted” Loreto as well, and they were even glad to welcome her along on vacation over spring break!

maggie family

“My son ended up canceling on me and going with his friends to the beach, so Loreto came with us to Gulf Port, and it was wonderful!” 

Maggie shares that Loreto is so much a part of the family that they’re all heart-broken to see her leave, though they do plan to visit her and her family in the not-too-distant future.

“I’ve been in touch with her mother, and she’s already invited me and my whole family over to stay with them,” shares Maggie. “She’s become good friends with my son, and everyone just loves her.”

loreto promMaggie still can’t believe how easy it’s been to have an instant connection with a teenager from across the world.

“It was really a very instant connection,” she said, “and I think she was really thirsting to connect with somebody. Her English is unbelievable – I joked with my son that maybe he should take some English lessons from her!” (Only kidding, of course!)

When reflecting on their time together, she chuckled –

“And this is only my first student,” she said, “do you get this close to ALL of them?”

The local coordinator experience is a new one for Maggie, but so far she has really enjoyed it. With her last child graduating this year, she feels this could be just the thing to fill the void. At the same time, she’s meeting an indescribable need for the students she will touch!

Loreto with brother



Meet Me in Madrid!

katie   April 27, 2018   No Comments on Meet Me in Madrid!

Julie Rayhorn has been a Local Coordinator with IE for two years. During that time, she has relished the opportunity to connect with students from different parts of the world! This spring, however, Julie enjoyed a new perk: the roles reversed, and she became the traveler!

Julie Rayhorn 3Julie was invited to participate in an abroad student orientation weekend, a travel opportunity offered to select coordinators every spring. The purpose of the weekend is to teach future exchange students how to proactively engage in their new American host community during the upcoming year. It also serves as a tangible reminder of the rules, responsibilities, and conduct required when accepting the privilege of being an exchange student.

Julie, who had never been to mainland Europe, was thrilled by the opportunity to visit Madrid, Spain!

Julie Rayhorn 4“The trip was wonderful!” shares Julie. “Everything was arranged by the iE Spain office. I wasn’t able to extend my stay, but even with the scheduled days, I was able to do some site-seeing. I was even able to meet for an evening with one of my students from last year! Definitely a highlight of the trip!!”

A blend of work time and “free time,” Julie’s Madrid experience was full of meaningful connections and insights into the exchange program. She especially loved hearing from the soon-to-be exchange students, who felt free to voice their concerns in this safe and supportive environment.

“I was able to hear all of the concerns and questions that the students had about living in the US in a setting where they felt comfortable saying what was on their minds and without worrying about how they might be interpreted,” shares Julie. “Most of the students I’ve worked with post-arrival are very careful at our first meeting to appear positive, confident, and capable. They’re not telling me what they’re afraid of or that they’re worried their host family won’t like them (or vice versa!)”

Julie Rayhorn 7Julie shared that these “real” and honest moments with the students have shaped her perspective as a local coordinator, a professional development opportunity she did not anticipate.

“I feel like I’ll be much better at reading between the lines and anticipating what may be happening in their heads,” she said.

It was equally eye-opening to see just how well the students were prepared, recalls Julie, in a long weekend. The goal is to thoroughly prepare students for success, and to that end the staff went above and beyond.

“It’s really helpful to hear the breadth of what is covered in a two day orientation,” said Julie. “There’s not much of a chance that a student wasn’t aware of a policy or rule!”

Julie Rayhorn 2Beyond the formal meetings in the orientation itself, Julie enjoyed connecting with the exchange staff in Spain as well.

“They were so hospitable and generous with their time!” remembers Julie. “Everyone was so genuinely welcoming, from the airport pickup to showing the sights of the city to wonderful meals to tasting local cuisine.

I left feeling like I had made new friends who I hope to see again!”

Julie Rayhorn 1Julie was also impressed by the caliber of students present during the 2 day session, which of course makes her work in student exchange feel so much more meaningful!

“Overall the kids were excited, asked a lot of good questions, and really can’t wait to find out where in our giant country they are going to be spending their year!!”



Like many coordinators, Julie finds joy in working with exchange students and their families. Her time in Spain served to confirm her commitment to their care, and it introduced her to the web of international support that functions behind the scenes!

Do you love people, purpose, and adventure? Join our team of local coordinators!

Learn more at

Volunteer Week 2018: Host Families Give From WITHIN

When we think of volunteering, we typically envision going outside of ourselves to give something away. Serving at a soup kitchen requires us to leave our normal routine and give time and resources to other people. Picking up trash requires hours in the hot sun. Charitable donations require giving money.

But what about the kind of volunteerism that simply asks you to share what you already have? A volunteerism that celebrates the life you’re already leading?

THAT is student exchange.

When you host an exchange student, you’re opening your home and your hearts to someone else. You’re sharing who you are – exactly as you are – with someone who simply wants to learn from you. Instead of interrupting your life to go outside yourself and perform an act of service, you’re opening up your life to be an act of service all in itself. (What a rare and beautiful thing!!)

And what’s even more remarkable is that many of our host parents find that while they commit to give this unique experience to a student, they actually gain so much more in return.

During National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, communities across the nation will recognize volunteers and commit to a culture of service. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than by honoring some of our gracious host families! We know you’ll love their stories, too!!

Herr familyThe Herr Family: A Spanish Role Model

Broc and Alaina Herr from Michigan are first-time hosts. They jumped into the role in the 11th hour, a decision that made them instant heroes in the eyes of their exchange student! Fifteen year old Ignacio from Spain (called “Nacho” for short) feared the time was running short for him to receive a host family placement. Needless to say, he was thrilled and relieved when the Herr family volunteered to be his American home!

“We took Nacho in without knowing anything about him, but he has become a part of our family,” shares Alaina. “He was a late placement and my sister talked me into doing it with her! But we do not regret it one bit!”

Alaina shares that they have come to love Nacho like their own, and this international addition to the family quickly became someone the young Herr children could learn from as well.

“With my children being younger, it has given them someone to look up to as a role model, and he is a very good one!! He loves spending time with the kids. It has been amazing to show him what a true American experience looks like.”


Alaina agrees that there are some aspect of hosting a student that could be considered “work,” as you would expect from adding another family member, but she says it’s “fun” work.

“It is all very much worth it! You learn so much about another student as well as learning about yourself. My children have gained a brother and I have gained a son!”


don jones best familyThe Jones Family: A Sister for Zada

Don and Marcia Jones from South Dakota have hosted 7 students, spanning the globe from Thailand, Germany, Serbia, Spain, and Columbia!

They originally decided to host because they love kids, and they wanted to give their daughter Zada the experience of sharing their home with a “sister.”

“Other than a few more groceries and a little more hot water (teenage girls and their showers), I have never felt any sense of sacrifice by hosting – and the rewards are endless,” shares Don. “I have fallen in love with every single one of our “kids” and plan to stay in touch with them forever.”

zada from behindIt’s understandable why a family may pause when looking at volunteering to host an exchange student – after all, inviting someone into your inner life is no small feat! However, Don feels strongly that the gifts his family has received are priceless in comparison.

“I can’t express how rewarding the act of sharing our home/lives with the exchange students has been. We truly feel that they become members of our family. We are humbled by the fact that these students and their families are trusting us to keep them safe and to guide their experience here in the USA.”

 The Boucher Family: What’s One (or Two) More?!

SarahThough Chris and Sarah have a bustling household with 4 children of their own, they never hesitated to jump into hosting – sometimes 2 students at a time!

To date they’ve hosted 6 students, and the impact on their family has been noteworthy to say the least. Sarah shares that the relationships they’ve made (and kept!) with their students are what keeps them coming back for more.

“Our elementary age children’s teachers have commented on how broad their view of the world is,” shares Sarah, “And I’m so confident it’s because of their many host siblings through the years!”

Sarah shares that getting to know each individual student and developing a real relationship is her favorite part of hosting, though it does make it that much more difficult to say goodbye.

“We have a wall of photos and momentos from each student we have hosted that reminds us daily of our ‘international children.’ Each one of them have left us something meaningful to thank us for their stay.”

Why is hosting such a unique and special act of volunteerism? Perhaps because it’s wrapped up in real, everyday life. Perhaps because it’s about relationships. Whatever the reason, we’re privileged to be a part of this amazing group of servant-hearted families, and together with them, we’re proud to champion the purpose of student exchange!

Want to find out more about what we do and how you can help?

Visit us at

All the WORLD’S a Stage ~ exchange students THRIVE in performing arts!

As an exchange student acclimating to “American life,” there is perhaps nothing more precious than a close-knit group of like-minded friends. Many students find that connection, and so much more, through music and performing arts – proving that ART truly does transcend cultures, beliefs and backgrounds!

claudiaWhy do groups like band, choir, and theater provide such an inclusive structure for students?

For starters, they tend to be accessible to the novice. For instance –

Jorge (Spain) could only play piano by ear….

Paula (Germany) had never set foot on a stage…

Antonia (Germany) was not active in choir…

AND YET, these three (and many others) rallied their natural interests and talents, took a leap of faith, and gained greater ability, an incredible experience, and life-long friendships.


Others who ARE active in music or performing arts in their home countries find a new mode of expression when they enter the vast world of American high school extracurriculars. Hugo and Claudia (both from Germany) learned to put a new twist on their existing talents through marching band, pep band, and musical productions.

Beyond the accessibility of these clubs, many of our students share that the interactive, collaborative spirit behind music and performing arts naturally fosters better connections and easy friendships.

The result? Many exchange students thrive in band, choir, and theater classes!

Jorge from Spain is an excellent example. Harnessing his natural love of music, Jorge joined Jazz Band as well as choir at McComb High School, and it was an instant fit.

Jorge on piano 2“Jorge is an amazingly talented young musician,” shares Mr. Andy Honse, Jorge’s band director. “When he first came to McComb he could play piano, but only by ear.  He now plays marimba, xylophone, drum, saxophone, and can read music for all of it!”


Jorge’s host parents recognized how valuable musical involvement was for him, since they are both musicians as well.

“There is a piano at home, so I can always play it whenever I want,” shares Jorge.  “I think the year has been a great experience for me, and music has been a fundamental part of the experience, simply because it’s totally different than what I’m used to back home.”

For many students, extracurricular activities like band, choir and theater simply aren’t offered at their hometown high schools, so participating in them while on exchange is a real thrill. The added advantage comes when they simultaneously gain an essential network of authentic friendships. THAT is a priceless lifeline for anyone, and especially for exchange students.

Paula 2Paula from Germany agrees, and she describes her theater group as being particularly accommodating.

“Theater kids are just really open and welcoming,” shares Paula. “Everyone is really dedicated to the plays which I think is not the case in every activity.”



Claudia from Spain also found a “home away from home” through her high school theater group, and she especially enjoyed the time spent preparing for their musical production. 

“Being in the musical helped me adjust,” shares Claudia, “because it meant I spent a lot of time with people I have something in common with. I was always surrounded by people, always had something to do – and we created a very close group of friends!”

antoniaAntonia, also from Germany, has had a similar experience at her local high school. While she was not in a formal choir at home, she jumped at the chance in the U.S. and she never looked back!

“It changed my experience completely,” shares Antonia. “I met a lot of people in choir, and it helped me a lot to make friends and by now were more like a small family.”

Antonia’s thoughts are mirrored by countless other students, who’ve shared that the friend network they found through music and performing arts provided a vital lifeline of support they never even expected!

Hugo, an avid trumpet player in Germany, knew he wanted to play the trumpet in the U.S. as well. What he found, however, was that through marching band, pep band, and many special concerts and performances throughout the year, he gained a close-knit group of friends made all the difference in his exchange year.

hugoHugo shares, “I found my first and best friends in the marching band. Band makes it easier to meet new people, because we don’t just sit in the classroom and listen to to the teacher, but we have to communicate with our classmates to make everything work.”

The most beautiful part? It doesn’t stop with these students! Mr. Benjamin Pack, director of the North Baltimore musical production, shares that exchange instigates a much larger ripple-effect. Just as these students need the support and connection provided through the arts, their American peers need the exposure and experiences only intercultural relationships can provide.

“It is incredibly important that our students get to experience other cultures,” shares Mr. Pack. “As not everyone will have a chance to travel internationally in their lives, it is a blessing to have other cultures brought to us. North Baltimore students genuinely take an interest in the lives of exchange students. They love asking questions like ‘Are you used to snow?’ ‘What is Christmas like in Spain?’ etc… I also think it gives the US students a sense of pride to demonstrate what high school life is like for them.”

Mr. Honse, Jorge’s Jazz Band Director, has noticed the same.

Paula stage“I have had 8 exchange students over the years and they have been a pleasure to have in class!” remembers Mr. Honse.

“Each one has changed the classroom environment by talking about how music and schools are different in their countries, as well as learning about Spanish culture and traditions in general.”

Michael Johnson was Antonia’s choir director, and he’s also seen his fair share of exchange students coming and going through the school halls. He echoes the thoughts of the other teachers quoted here, yet also recognizes that one of the most beautiful elements of student exchange is its power to show not only how we are different, but also how we are fundamentally the same.

“Just as foreign exchange students bring different experiences and different upbringings to the table, they also bring a sense of unity when the community and my students can see that our inner motivations for success are often the same,” writes Johnson. “Our challenges are often the same. Our struggles and emotions are all often the same. It is such a refreshing moment, when I see students who have never even left this state, interact with, gain appreciation for, and ask questions about the way life is in another country.”

The small legacy these students leave behind are small ripples in a sea of connections fostered through exchange. And where better to promote life-long relationships than through the arts, where “all the world’s a stage”? These students will forever be grateful, and the many friends they’ve made will never be the same.

Welcome to TEXAS!!

katie   March 21, 2018   No Comments on Welcome to TEXAS!!

When 16 year old Johanna from Austria boarded a plane for America, she knew she was in for an adventure! But she never could have guessed how quickly a town called Lucas, TX – with the warmth of her host family and the energy of Lovejoy High School – would become a second home! The Rupich family is a bustling household with 7 children of their own, but they jumped at the chance to welcome Johanna.

“She’s such a sweet girl, and she’s always eager to please,” shared host mom Lyn Rupich.

The family met Johanna in Chicago during winter vacation, where they enjoyed some time together before returning home to Texas.

“I’m placed with the greatest host family in the whole world,” Johanna shared. “They treat me like their own child!”

Johanteal with friendsna has also fallen in “love” with Lovejoy High School and the opportunities it provides, like joining the track team and selecting a full range of unique courses.

“I think Lovejoy is an amazing school,” she shares. “It’s so different than in Austria, and I really enjoy that you can go deeper in any particular subject. Every teacher is so nice and helpful!”

The Rupich family has already learned from Johanna – among other things, that Austria is very cold in the winter (good primarily for Alpine skiing!) and that the German language is filled with multi-syllabic words that are quite difficult to pronounce (though they’re trying)! It’s their fun-loving vibe that has already served them so well as hosts! Host mom Lyn says she would LOVE the chance to visit Johanna in Austria one day, “in the SUMMER!” she quipped!
you know its realLocal Coordinator Teal Scott says that bringing the adventure of student exchange to Texas is as rewarding as it is fun.

“I love watching students and families learn and grow together,” says Teal.

Johanna says that in her opinion, Lucas is a perfect town for exchange students.

“It’s been very easy to make friends, and everyone has been very welcoming!” she shares. “I have already gained so much! Self-confidence, experience, maturity,” reflects Johanna.“My English knowledge gets better every day, and I’m gaining a rich understanding of another culture. There are thousands of reasons why I am thankful!”

It Takes a Village

katie   March 1, 2018   1 Comment on It Takes a Village

What comes to mind when you think of foreign exchange students? Is it cobblestone streets winding through quaint European cities? Is it foreign languages, or interesting international cuisine? To be sure, INTERNATIONAL is what we’re all about – but as a nonprofit organization intentionally invested in our host communities, we’re also about LOCAL.

it takes a village girlsIt’s the very fabric of our host communities – the local businesses and festivals and Friday night football games – that provides the canvas for our students to have a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience!

That’s why we love the local clubs and organizations who support us, and why we work to enrich their programs as well! They say “it takes a village to raise a child,”  and we believe it takes a village to do quite a few things… Including developing empathetic, culturally aware children and families, connecting people in meaningful relationship, and equipping the youth of the world to be prepared for a global marketplace.

After all, our motto is “Learn, Share, Grow,” and none of these can happen in a vacuum!  That’s why we relish the chance to give back to local groups, to partner with them to further our MUTUAL goals of cultural connection, engagement, learning and FUN!

girl scouts worldIt’s heartwarming to see how many community groups have an international component, and we love to jump in and serve where we’re able.

For example, Girl Scouts, which may feel like a familiar club in our own backyards, is actually a GLOBAL organization, stretching across 146 different countries!

Since Girl Scouts features many opportunities for cultural activities through their merit badge program, it provides a natural platform for our students to “give back” to their host community! Scout initiatives like “World Thinking Day,” for example, center around global issues, encouraging girls to get involved and make an impact. This is a perfect opportunity for collaboration, like arranging an exchange student to visit a local troop to share about his or her country and culture!

girl footballSince GLOBAL change begins at the LOCAL level, it’s a joy to partner with organizations to further the goals of connection, community involvement, and grass-roots global change.

Solving world problems requires that we all think beyond our own front door, and exchange students offer a tangible way to connect with another perspective. And since 40% of the population is currently part of the 10-24 year old demographic, there has never been a more important time to shape our youth to make a positive global impact.

This can be done through COMMUNITY GROUPS.  This can be done through EXCHANGE STUDENTS.  And if we work together, our efforts will be multiplied!

Are you interested in learning more about ways we give back to the community?

Are you connected with a school, club or organization in your community that would enjoy connecting with an exchange student and learning about foreign cultures?

We’d love the opportunity to serve you!  Leave a comment, or contact us at