One day when our youngest son was a high school junior he came home and announced he wanted to be a foreign exchange student in Germany for a year. He had studied the German language and his teacher had encouraged him to apply for the program. My wife and I learned more about the program and were excited that he was interested in being part of it, and we were proud when he was accepted into the program. We also had an opportunity to host a German foreign exchange student the semester before our son went overseas and that was the beginning of our own adventure in international relations.
Andre was our first foreign exchange student, and he was followed by 20 more from various countries around the world. Our hosting was done through AYUSA (Academic Year in the USA), a U.S. State Department supported program that partners with several other countries around the world. Our students came from Germany, Hong Kong, South Korea, Ukraine, Russia, Finland, China, Japan, Thailand, Yemen, Liberia and Taiwan. We hosted both boys and girls, usually in pairs, but from different countries. Most were very well-behaved and were good students. Standards of conduct are strict for both incoming exchange students as well as U.S. students studying abroad.
Families wishing to host students from other countries are also investigated carefully to make certain they are suitable for hosting. We were fortunate enough to see both sides of the program as parents of an exchange student as well as hosts for other students. Although we hosted through AYUSA and recommend this program, there are other hosting programs including Rotary Club and several others. Most of our students are still in contact with us through social media, e-mail or even through visits or other direct contacts. We consider them to be part of our family and treat them as such. Many have gone on to successful careers or further studies.
For people like us, “empty nesters,” hosting a young person from another country is a way to open our homes and our hearts. It has been a great experience all around, including for the young men and women we have hosted. WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.