Just about a year ago the world changed in ways we never expected and with those changes came a new hosting experience. At a time like this many ask themselves “Why host now?” We spoke with two host families, the Zabkas and the Seneys, to answer just that question and a few more. 

Why did you choose to host this year?

The Zabka family are currently hosting Clementine from France at their home in the suburbs just outside of Chicago. When asked why they chose to host this past year Host Mom, Johnni, says “We had applied to be a host family before lock down started and these students are very invested and they really want to do this and it’s not just invested personally or emotionally it’s also a big financial investment. They are just normal kids who want to come over and have the experiences they have dreamed of for so long. For some if they don’t do it now they wont be able to do it at all and we are happy to enable this experience.”

The Seney family felt similarly, “We really thought it would be a great experience. It’s a different experience this year because we are home and together so much more. But we wanted to provide a home for a student who was still interested in the exchange experience.” 

What has hosting during this time been like?

“We have our own family bubble which feels more personal. One of her favorite things is to watch movies together. They are both fans of romantic comedies which they have bonded over.” -Host Mom, Johnni 

“It’s been a ton of fun actually because we’ve had more time together as a family. We are not so tied up in after school activities and things like that. We have lots more together time and a lot less running around like crazy. We’ve created a level of rapport with Lou much more quickly than with lots of the other kids.” says Beckie Seney. In their northern Connecticut town, Host Student Lou, from France, has been on a hybrid schedule, going into school two days a week. The family has been using that time to go on hikes, exploring their rural area. When they aren’t spending time outdoors they are bonding over puzzles and exchanging recipes in the kitchen. Host Dad Dave continues, “because we get to spend so  much time together you get to develop relationships that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. We’ve created a level of rapport with Lou much more quickly than with lots of the other kids.”

What has school been like?

Both family’s Host Students have had hybrid school schedules and fully virtual learning but they are still getting new and unique experiences at their American schools. Clem wants to be a doctor and is taking anatomy this semester. “She’s learning all the English words for different parts of the anatomy. She’s super excited because where we live we do dissection in class where in France they are not allowed to. It’s interesting that she is still able to have these unique experiences even with the current school set up.”  

AFS supporting student interaction

“We have two other AFS students hosted in our town. We have been able to create a social pod with their families and have been able to provide some social opportunities as safely as possible.” – Beckie Seney. The Seney Family also originally planned to double host and when their second Host Student wasn’t able to join them this year they joined the AFS Virtual Exchange program and now they and their current Host Student meet with their virtual Host Daughter for at least 3 hours a month. “We are currently virtually hosting a young woman from Egypt. The point of the program is to share cultures and we are excited to interact and learn with her.”

“I have to hand it to AFS for putting together Zoom calls for the students. Clem will be like “I have a Zoom meeting with everyone around the world!” where normally they wouldn’t have done that. So that’s kind of a plus, so it’s not just like your little group who you would have hung out with here in town. Now you actually have a zoom call with people everywhere like everyone in AFS around the world.” says Host Mom Johnni. 

What would you say to families thinking of hosting during the pandemic?

“To not have any fear, it is still the best experience. Ask yourself why not? You can be the one family to make these student’s dreams come true. It’s still the special cultural experience that AFS is at its core. This is a new world and we have to adjust. AFS is not just about visiting the US. AFS is about bonding and becoming a family. It’s an experience that you will never forget and that they will never forget.” -Host Mom, Johnni

“The first thing that I would say, and it’s kinda the same thing I would say to families who are thinking about hosting but not really sure about it, don’t worry about it. Because all the things that people worry about, all the things that we worried about when we thought about hosting initially, really aren’t a problem, aren’t a big deal. We get so much out of having the students in our home and learning from them and sharing with them. I think the biggest thing is don’t worry about it. For Dave and I, it’s just the two of us, our kids are grown. I think that the tendency might have been for us to hole up in our house and hibernate a little during the pandemic. It’s just easier and works a little exhausting. But having Lou here has kept us a lot more engaged. We stay more active and it’s been good for us.” -Host Mom, Beckie

What may originally seem like a less than rewarding hosting experience may actually end up being the most enriching one yet for these two families. Large gatherings may be put on pause but the experiences of our world’s students are most certainly not. Will it be like it used to be? No, but change is ever present and will always surprise you with the exciting new adventures it brings along. 

Learn more about the AFS-USA’s response to COVID-19

Learn more about the students coming to your area!