This blog features interviews from the Judy family and two students hosted by Dar Fredrickson in Pennsylvania. Both interviews were first published in “Building Bridges”, the Western Pennsylvania Area Team’s volunteer-created newsletter.
The Judy family first became involved with AFS when a close friend suggested they try hosting. Since then, the Judy’s have hosted five times with students hailing from Italy, Sweden, Turkey, and their current student, Mohannad from Jordan. In this interview, the Judy’s discuss the transformative effects of welcoming exchange students in their family.
How has your AFS experience changed your family?
“Simply put, our AFS experience has grown our family. Every year these kids have become like an additional child, brother or sister, grandchild, cousin, etc. Every student has been different and grown close to various members of our family. No matter what the specifics of our year though, we have a broader view and respect for the people of the world. We try new foods and learn about new traditions. It really enhances our family time as we introduce all of our activities to someone new. It is always exciting to show them Halloween, haunted houses, carving pumpkins, trick or treat, Thanksgiving and Christmas, making gingerbread houses, decorating the tree, Steeler games, the city of Pittsburgh, fast food restaurants, malls and vacation trips.”
What had you coming back to host again?
“Some years we returned to hosting due to the enthusiasm of our oldest son. He was 10 years old the first time we hosted. He has encouraged us to get another student even after challenging years when my husband and I would have chosen to take a break. We have never regretted any of our students. They aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. We have learned to solve problems. It has been surprising to see bonds between some of us strengthen even after a student returns to their native country.”
“It is most special when we have the privilege to visit their homes and meet their natural families. My children would not have passports and the experience of leaving the United States if they didn’t have their international siblings.”
What needs to happen for this year to be viewed a success?
Throughout it all, being a host family and creating a successful year is about the bonds formed between their family and students. “Seeing our students make real connections with people is what I consider a success. The more connections they make the more success I see. Of course, improving English language skills can be vitally important to a person’s success in the business world. But to me, this only scratches the surface of what is precious about the exchange experience. We are a global community. By being together and overcoming our cultural misunderstandings we see the worth of people. Exchange students become more open minded as well as all of the people they connect with. There is a hope that the AFS experience will help people accept diversity and seek peace and unity.”
As shown by the Judy family, hosting allows for opportunities to build friendships and intercultural exchange. Hosting is also fulfilling because of the impact host families have in making a difference in the lives of young people eager to grow and learn. Mansib from Bangladesh and Bartosz from Poland, two students hosted by Dar Frederickson in Pennsylvania, describe life in their host community.
Mansib: “Before I came, I was kind of nervous about my school and how the students would behave with me but, to be honest, the students at Hempfield Area High School are the nicest people I have ever met. The school is obviously not like the one back at home, it’s huge! I used to study in a comparatively small British school. It’s been almost more than a month and I really like it here. I will be experiencing the first homecoming in my life and, surprisingly, I am on the homecoming court! It’s really exciting!”
“I am really grateful to have such a lovely host family and amazing school. Hopefully my whole year will be a blast and something that will be a fabulous memory for the rest of my life”
Bartosz: “My friend Ada who also won a scholarship [to study abroad] influenced me to get out of my comfort zone and try something that some people would have never done.
I have already experienced a few differences between Poland and Europe in general versus the USA. But the most important thing for me is to stay open minded and absorb as much as possible while I’m here. Remember, not better, not worse, just different!”
Opening your doors to exchange students is a rewarding way to bring you and your family new experiences you may have never considered. If you’re thinking about hosting a student, click here to find out more information.