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Home Away From Home

Exchange Students Become Part of the Family for Local Hosts

Dawn Wilson never imagined her family would open its home to an exchange student, but when she found out that host families were needed, she didn’t hesitate. Though they signed up to be hosts, the Wilsons and their exchange student grew to be a family – learning from each other along the way.

“There was a small paragraph from Anna’s profile. From just that paragraph, I thought Anna was a great young lady and would fit in with our family perfectly,” Dawn says. “My kids are older and more independent, so I thought this might be a good time to welcome Anna into our home.”

The Wilsons hosted 16-year-old Anna, from Finland, during the 2021-2022 school year. Because she was a late placement, Anna arrived after the third week of school. But Dawn said that didn’t phase her.

“Anna is amazing. She’s so mature. She was 16 when she arrived but seemed several years older. She’s kind, smart, funny, outgoing and so happy,” Dawn says.

Anna participated in track and field, choir and theater while attending Argyle High School. “She wanted to experience all-things-American-high-school, and she did,” Dawn says. “Her favorite thing was Friday Night Lights. She loved going to the football games. She was so excited to be here. It is something she wanted to do since she was in fourth grade.”

Dawn says Anna learned there are some similarities and several differences between life in Finland and life in America. “School is different; politics are different; religion is different; and health insurance is different to name a few.”

The Wilsons also learned from Anna. “This was good for my kids to live with someone from another culture. To learn from Anna that there is more than one way of doing things. To witness Anna leave her family, her home, her school and her friends for the unknown and then to acclimate to our home and our culture so quickly and so well, is inspiring.

“It was an amazing experience to see Anna have such a great year and to be a part of that. To love her like our own daughter. She will always be a part of our family,” Dawn says.

Cheryl Close of Flower Mound hosted an exchange student during the 2017-2018 school year, and, like Dawn, says their student also became a member of the family.

“My husband, Van, and I hosted Marco, who is from Bologna, Italy. It was such a wonderful year. We love him like our son, and we are now part of his extended family,” she says. “We hope to make a trip to Italy soon to see him and his mom, dad, grandparents and sister. They are wonderful people, and we can’t wait to see them and their beautiful country.”

Cheryl is a member of the Cross Timbers Rotary Club and is an ambassador for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.

Cross Timbers Rotary has participated in the Youth Exchange Program since the club’s charter year, though the program paused during the pandemic.

Cheryl says District 5790 of Rotary International is hosting a small number of exchange students this coming school year and plans to expand to its normal number of exchange students eventually. Cross Timbers Rotary will be one of a few clubs in District 5790 hosting a youth exchange student for this coming school year. It will be welcoming a student from Romania in August.

“When a club sponsors a youth exchange student, it is a chance for our club members to show a young person all about Texas and our country,” Cheryl says. “They learn what America is really like and return home with a much clearer picture of Americans. In return, host families and club members get to know the young person and more about his/her country and life back home.”

Cheryl says Marco was a joy to host. “He took his schoolwork very seriously and studied regularly. He had been the captain of his soccer team in Italy, and they won the National Championship. He was able to play soccer at Marcus High School, so I got to be a soccer mom for the first time!” Cheryl says proudly. “He made good friends with the boys on his team. He has such a great personality that everyone loved him.”

Cheryl says, “Marco had the perfect attitude for an exchange student. He was up for trying anything. He did not shy away from new experiences. He frequently asked questions because he wanted to learn as much about our state and country as possible. He loved Texas and soon became a Whataburger and Dr. Pepper fan. As you can probably tell, we love Marco and his family so much!”

While Marco was busy learning all about America, Cheryl says she and Van learned much from him. “For one thing, it’s fun to experience our country through the eyes of someone who has never been here. So we enjoyed taking him to places we had not been in years. We have never had a boy, which was a different parenting experience, and we learned that boys can eat a lot! He taught us how to make tiramisu and one of his favorite pasta dishes.”

Both Dawn and Cheryl say hosting an exchange student was a completely worthwhile experience.

“I have encouraged lots of friends to consider hosting,” Cheryl says. “It was a truly wonderful experience, and Marco and his family will always be part of our family. We would do it over again in a second.”

Cheryl offers the following advice to those interested in hosting an exchange student.

•      Commit to making the exchange student part of the family – not a guest.

•      Be prepared for an adjustment period. It can be difficult for a high school student to adjust to a world different from theirs.

·      Exchange students need support, understanding and love. Communication is key.

·      Be prepared for a bit of homesickness during the holidays.

·      Enjoy every minute because the year will fly by.