Hosting an exchange student is an amazing opportunity to form lasting personal bonds, share your culture and values, and expand your family’s horizons. Each year, more than 2,000 families in the U.S. sign up to carry on the AFS tradition of building bridges of understanding between cultures, which has been going strong for over 70 years.
We recently spoke with Erica Scharer about her thoughts and perspectives as an AFS “host mom.” This year, Erica and her husband Chris are thrilled about their experience hosting Djimmer, a delightful, football-loving 17-year-old from the Netherlands. During our conversation, we asked Erica five questions that prospective host families are often wondering about, too.
1. Why did you and your husband decide to host an AFS exchange student?
This is our third time around. The first time, we saw some families in the community that had some great experiences. Our [local AFS Volunteer] heard through the grapevine that we were asking questions about how their experiences went. She called us up one day and said, “Hey, heard you’ve been asking questions,” so one thing led to another, and we ended up at her house looking at profiles [and] we filled out all the applications. That kind of went very fast.
2. What’s an example of how you learn about another culture from your hosting experience?
Marc [their previous exchange student] and Djimmer brought cookbooks. The holidays have been different and fun, to share the holiday traditions with all of them.
3. Can you come up with any of your favorite memories?
I always love to see kids develop relationships here, with their friends at school, and especially the family. I like to see the kids connect with our kids, aunts and uncles, cousins, us…and become part of the family. I just think that’s cool.
4. Is there any advice you would give to families that want to host an exchange student?
Just be open and flexible. I think it’s been easy for us. I tell people all the time, because they always ask me, “Wow, you’ve done this for three years?” I say it’s not that big of a deal, you just open your house and open yourself to a kid, and the rest is easy. As long as you can be open and loving, it’s pretty easy.
5. Why do you think cultural exchange is important?
I’ve gotten to know a lot of AFS students over the years from other countries. I now care not only about the kids but their countries. I care about what’s going on in Chile, France and Switzerland. I can’t help but think about those countries differently, now that I have people in those countries that I love.