Have you ever considered hosting a foreign exchange student? Those who have hosted, like the Cahill family of Uxbridge, will tell you that it is a rewarding experience.
For Isabel Cahill, a freshman in our exploratory program, the exchange was a reunion. She had been looking forward to seeing her German friend, 16-year old Lena Bolter, an exchange student who stayed with the Cahill family last year. “We hosted Lena last year, and we liked her so much that we couldn’t wait to have her back,” said Isabel.
Dierdra Cahill, Isabel’s mother and a teacher assistant at BVT, explained how it worked for her family. “I saw a post on Facebook that Adventure Homestays Abroad (AHA) was looking for host families. There was no pressure to host. Once I reached out to them, the exchange program provided us with student profiles to preview and select who we felt would be the best fit for our family of five. It was important to my daughter, who would be introducing her to all of her friends at school, to choose someone who was into meeting new people.”
“We were excited to read about who was coming,” said Dierdra. “So, with only three weeks before they were due to arrive in America, we chose Lena, who was into meeting new friends. AHA approved our home and told us that we should reach out to her about family.”
“I wrote an e-mail to the Bolter family, telling them about our daughter, Isabel. We shared e-mails with them and pictures of our home, town, and school,” said Dierdra. “We wanted them to feel comfortable knowing where their daughter would be staying for three weeks. We learned that her favorite color is pink, and we decorated her room, incorporating her favorite color.”
“Using social media, my daughter, Isabel, and her friends connected online with Lena before she left Germany,” said Dierdra. “Honestly, we felt like we knew her before she got off the plane.”
The Cahill family made a welcome sign and met Lena at the airport. “We wanted her to experience our culture,” explained Dierdra. “Being fall in New England, we took her directly to an orchard. We picked apples, made an apple pie, and prepared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.”
Visiting Boston and New York are part of AHA trips. The Cahill’s wanted to show Lena New England, so they went to York Beach, Maine; Portsmouth, NH; Providence, RI; toured the Newport Mansions and to Cape Cod all the way from the canal to Provincetown, MA. They also went leaf peeping up to Killington, VT, ate lots of sushi, attended a Celtics game, and celebrated Halloween by trick or treating and going to the Factory of Terror, which is something they do not really do in Germany.
When it came to food, Dierdra, tried to alternate every other night between meals that the Cahill family enjoyed and German dishes that Lena suggested. Lena tried everything. She found that she liked Chicken Parmigiana, Sheppard’s Pie, and Enchiladas while Lena introduced the Cahill’s to meals that they had never tried before, like Tuna Pizza and Currywurst.
“Tuna Pizza is basically a regular cheese pizza, add dry flakes of tuna, and chopped onions,” explained Dierdra. “It sounds crazy, but you have to try it, it is amazing! My family also enjoyed Currywurst, which is German sausage (bratwurst) with curry-flavored ketchup, served with French fries. Trust me. It is delicious.”
Lena brought the Cahill family, seasoning packets from Germany that are similar to our Knorr packets to use in making her favorite meal. Dierdra explained, “It’s like a German cream sauce that tastes very American. You use the mix, add cream, mushroom, to your chicken, bake and serve over rice or pasta. It is very good. The food is great.”
“The most surprising thing that I learned from the whole experience was that I thought we would be teaching Lena about the United States, but she taught us so much about Germany,” said Dierdra. “My youngest son, who is eleven, has been learning German because of this experience. She speaks and reads to him, shares books with pictures. She brought him candy and chips from Germany. She brought me a nutcracker.”
The Cahill’s send Lena back to Germany with treats that are only available here like Maple Syrup, Fluff, Saltwater Taffy, New England Patriot Shirts, Hot Spicy Cheetos, and Sour Patch Kids. “Her friends and family are not used to extreme flavors since and extreme heat snacks and sweet and sour gummy candy are not available in Germany,” said Dierdra. “Also local honey made by the Laverdiere’s - a BVT family, and Ramen Noodle Soup!”
“Lena is not used to pie, just apple, not really into or sweet desserts. She prefers healthy desserts like frozen berries with whip cream. Lena politely tries everything, but language translates abruptly,” said Dierdra. “For example, if she doesn’t like something, she will say no, I don’t like it. Rather than oh, it wasn’t bad, or it’s not my favorite.”
Dairy Queen and The Cheesecake Factory were two places that Lena wanted to try. “We have been doing a lot of shopping, given that some items are more expensive in Germany. American purchases included AirPods and sneakers,” said Dierdra. “We took in Broadway shows in NYC, and we saw Post Malone in concert, he doesn’t tour close to her. We managed to fit a lot in.”
In the future, the Cahill’s want to plan a family vacation to Germany to visit Lena. “We would also like to invite the Bolter family to come to the United States and stay with us as well. We use WhatsApp to connect once a month. We keep e-mailing back and forth, send pictures, and stay connected through Instagram. I feel like I know them even though we have not met face to face,” said Dierdra. “We would encourage other families who are interested in hosting to consider it. We had a positive experience and were surprised by how much we all learned through this cultural exchange.”
Bridging Cultures &
If you think you might be interested
in hosting an exchange student, reach out to
Mr. Evans by phone: 508–529–7758 x3011,
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or
on Twitter: @ewevans3 for more information.