My ETC Why Story

Chelsea Dozier (Local Coordinator)

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THIS is #mywhy. Here is the incredible, true story of how a tragedy changed the direction of my life and we gained a daughter from it!

Meet Anne, our German daughter. But this story actually starts about 18 months before her arrival. I was 2 years into working as an admin assistant at a local boys camp. I say local, but the commute was 45 minutes down some back gravel roads where I usually had more squirrels and deer cross the road than cars pass me. I embarked on this journey because I left behind a teaching/coaching career that I always thought would be my life. But as politics poisoned the school system in NC, I threw in the towel– along with many other young teachers, in the biggest walk-out of teachers in NC history.

I began my commute to work THAT Wednesday morning. A Wednesday that literally rocked my world and changed everything. It was day 3 that I had pulled out of the driveway with tear-filled eyes as I kissed my 6 week old baby girl goodbye and headed off to work. I was almost to camp, psyching myself up for another day of working through the emotions of missing my baby girl and pumping a decent milk supply in an office run by mostly men. Then I saw it. Smoke billowing through the trees. It took me a moment to snap out of my pitty-party and notice the A-Frame structure glowing in flames. I picked up my phone to dial 911 as I had yet to see the flashing lights of any emergency vehicle. I drove by the long, gravel driveway that lead to the horror story unfolding in front of my eyes and I felt and heard God speak in a way I had never felt before. This was the moment that confirmed to me that God is real. He told me to drive up to that house and pray with those people. I didn’t know who they were or what was happening but I felt an overwhelmingly, intense urge to drive up there and it took everything I had to keep my foot on the gas and head to work. I was terrified of what I would face and so I continued to dial 911, reported the fire and fled the scene. I was overrun with guilt and emotions as I heard the sirens in the distance. They were not going to salvage that house. What was the point of going up there? I knew I probably wouldn’t get words out anyways and I could pray from my desk at work. I knew deep down though that I should have gone up there. They just lost their home, they wouldn’t want some strange, emotional woman in their presence anyways, right? But unfortunately, they lost so much more. Later that afternoon, the news reported a house fire. That house fire, in which a 4 year old boy had lost his life in. My heart sunk into the pit of my stomach and I lost it.

This event wrecked me. Not only because of my disobedience to God, but because I knew I wanted to soak up every minute I could with my little girl. I did not want to wake up one day with the guilt of working away the lives of my kids. That Friday, I quit my job.

At this point, we were not making much money as a family and I officially cut our salary in half. I began to search for other opportunities. Education, Travel & Culture had an ad in Indeed. A student placed in our county was in need of a local coordinator. The position involved working with the local high school, families and teens as well as getting to learn about other cultures. It seemed perfect. I also picked up 2-3 days a week at the antique store my Dad owned. My baby girl came with me and I began the work from home/take your baby to work adventure. It came with many challenges (like a walking baby in an antique store) BUT guilt was not one of them!

After being a LC for a year, I felt like it was hard to “sell” something I had never tried. So, I convinced my hubby to invite a foreign, teenage girl into our home for 5 months. It took a lot of convincing. He mostly was looking out for my anxiety since we did have a 14 month old running the house at the time, but he had his own concerns as well. Legit ones; like “What do I do if I have to fart” or “I can’t walk around freely in my underwear.” We were also struggling through the 14 month old stage, how could we possibly make it through with a teenage girl in the home?!

We prayed and I began to look through the student applications. This one name and face kept calling to me. The very beautiful, smiling face you see below. I finally showed M.A. and said– “She is the one”.

I remember talking with her through Skype for the first time. It was definitely awkward. The conversation died a lot and she seemed sweet but there wasn’t a huge connection. Then a few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. I was going to invite this girl into our home while I drowned myself in pregnancy hormones! It was too late to back out and I was terrified. What did I just commit us to?!

We stood at the airport with our sign and waited for the familiar face to come walking out of the crowd. There she was. Anne. From Germany. We hugged her neck and headed home to the mountains of NC. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. This was not some short commitment. It was months. It was Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was through the majority of my pregnancy. Ridgelee was 18 months old at the time and I had raging hormones that basically grew snakes out of my head one minute and had me hovering over the toilet wishing I would throw-up for some sort of nausea relief the next. WELCOME HOME ANNE!

The start of this book sounds like it would have some pretty disturbing chapters. It feels like an intense climax would eventually form. But actually, the book would be super boring for you as a reader. The truth is, our experience was incredible. The photo of Anne holding Ridgelee was taken less than 24 hours after her arrival. The two of them connected quickly. My 18 month old had a play mate that she would crave constant attention from and Anne was happy to give it. M.A. and Anne formed a bond I can’t even describe and I kind of envied it. She was also a huge help to me. When she saw I was on edge or sick, she would just take Ridgelee to the play room and entertain her or offer to help with dinner. She gifted M.A. and I with some date nights to show us appreciation and she had a constant smile and a joy that radiated from her that made us fall in love with her on day 1.

2 years after hosting her, Anne and her parents came to visit us at our new home in GA and she got to meet the little nugget that was in my tummy during our time with her. A month later, I got to see Anne in her home country! (see pics below). What we thought was a 5 month commitment was actually a gateway to a lifelong relationship. We still talk with Anne often and know we will see her again; maybe at her wedding one day or to snuggle her baby in the distant future or maybe just for a fun vacation to Germany in another year or two.

Why are we not hosting now?! Trust me, I would love to. But unfortunately our current life doesn’t allow for us to since we run an AirBnb and ministry from our home. BUT Ridgelee and Mathias have had the opportunity to be loved on by other German students, a beautiful Mexican girl, a spunky Spanish girl, a sweet Brazilian boy, a fun Italian boy and cute Chinese girl. As a local coordinator, they still get glimpses of other cultures and students. Although they are not at our home daily, we have had opportunities to meet them, love them, get to know them, and follow their journey on social media as they head home. I say we– because it might be MY job, but my kids are with me every step of the way.

If you have made it this far in my story… YOU ROCK! Thank you for reading. But I want you to part with a little insight. If you do not feel your family is a good fit for exchange, please re-consider. We were terrified and my high-strung personality does not do well with huge changes like this. BUT I would do it all over again. It was a blessing to me and my family. It was definitely not the right time for us… but actually, it was the PERFECT time for us. If you have considered it, do not wait. It does not matter if your kids are young, hyper, moody teens, or gone off to college; there is a student that would be a perfect fit for your family waiting on you. I strongly encourage you to at least open your heart enough to see what students are available and WHEN the right one comes along (whenever that may be), then you can commit. Will you at least chat with me about it???

So, that’s #mywhy. Because I needed extra income and an opportunity to be home with my child(ren). But the job quickly evolved into experiences, growth, relationships and so much more. Thank you #educationttravelandculture for allowing us to be a part of this incredible journey.

Jessica L Schuman (Field Manager)

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My story began when I was 8 years old. I was fascinated with other languages and I was going to learn Italian. I went to the library and checked out a tape and proceeded to learn probably 3 words and I was convinced I was fluent. I would always sign up to have pen pals from other countries and we would send each other letters and coins (I still have some of those coins – pre Euro)! Fast forward to jr. high. I remember being so excited because I could finally take french. I had an awesome french teacher and took it for both years I was there. I continued French all through high school, along with Spanish and German.

10th grade is when I met my first exchange students. Maria from France, Eike from Germany, and Rolof from the Netherlands. I was immediately drawn to them and attempted to be their friend, whether they wanted to be or not. LOL. I ended up keeping in touch with Rolof after he left an even making one really expensive phone call to him back in the Netherlands. I remember going to talk to my counselor because I wanted to be an exchange student in France, but unfortunately just wasn’t possible for me at the time! All through adulthood, I always wanted to travel to Europe and also host an exchange student. Travel was too expensive and there was never a good situation in which I could host. Years go by, and we are now living in Eugene, OR. As I was scanning through facebook, I see a post about some students that need a host family. I immediately spoke to my husband, and after little convincing and some back and forth, he was on board! Well, we were going to try being just a temporary “Welcome family”. What if she doesn’t like our family, what if we don’t get along, what if….”

About two weeks later, we headed up to Portland to meet our new Spanish daughter! Celia was her name and she had bright red, curly hair. After about a few weeks with us, we decided that we would like to have her stay for the entire school year! There was a learning process to having a teen in the house, but overall, hosting Celia was life-changing! My kids now had an older Spanish sister. We learned more about the Spanish culture than I ever knew there was to know about.
We even got to meet her parents at the end of her program. To this day, we are in touch with Celia and we are hoping to visit her this fall!

This past September, we welcomed two boys into our home! Aris, from Italy, and Wilhelm from Germany. My kids have bonded immensely with these two boys and even though Aris has already returned home, they still ask about him and clearly miss him. The thought of Will leaving in June brings my kids to tears. I also had the amazing opportunity this past fall to meet both of their parents while I was in Germany and Italy. Aris’s mom took me on a tour of Rome in the rain and I stayed at her house. I would like to think that we are friends and I am looking forward to seeing her and Aris again this fall in Italy!

It was during Celia’s stay that I decided to become a local coordinator with ETC! How cool to be able to match families and students and meet all these amazing kids from all over the world! It took awhile for me to get my feet off the ground, but I am now a field manager and oversee 12 local coordinators in 3 states and 18 students in those 3 states. I have traveled more than I ever have in my life, within the US and abroad. This has been the best decision I’ve made and I feel like this could be my best year yet!

Hosting exchange students is not always perfect. But it is an experience that I will always cherish and feel that I have gained new family members from all over the world. My kids have now have international siblings and have been exposed to people that have different cultures and ways of life.

I love this job and this experience and wanted to share this long post with you!! Thanks for listening!!

#etcexchange #exchangestudents #hostfamilies #localcoordinators

Amy Wilch (Local Coordinator)

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MY STORY ISN’T ANYTHING SPECIAL.
But we’ve had very special experiences! My parents always opened their home to others in need: college kids, missionaries, our teen friends. I think people knew it was a safe place. They set a great example for me to feel like I could do the same. We just did it in different ways. 

🇮🇹🇩🇪🇪🇦🇫🇷🇺🇸🇻🇳🇰🇷

A few years ago, a neighbor hosted Federico, a student from Italy (not with ETC) and he became friends with one of my sons as they attended the same high school and lived across the street. (Sorry this is so long!!) He occasionally would hang out at our house and he was so friendly and cool. Hosting an exchange student was something my husband and I had talked about over the years but with 4 sons, I felt like I couldn’t have another boy in the house! Summer of 2017, our 3rd son was preparing to leave for college in another state and our youngest was going to be a freshman in high school. For the first time, we were only going to have 1 child at home full time. Well, we agreed to host but I had some conditions. I wanted to have a daughter and I wanted an Italian one.  You see, my dad was 100% Italian and I love my big Italian family. We are a proud, loud, passionate bunch and I really wanted to connect with my heritage. I also wanted to learn all about living the Italian culture, as I already knew about the Italian-American culture. Chiara arrived in August and admittedly, it was a bit awkward at first. She was a little quiet, sweet and up for anything. She jumped in with both feet and really became a part of our family! My boys finally had a sister and I finally had a daughter. Girls are so very different from boys!
Mason would hide behind doors and scare the crap out of her, they would hang out and laugh together, they teased each other and got along well. The day she started calling us Mom and Dad melted my heart and we all knew this girl would forever be a part of our family. We learned so much about Italy and at Christmas, her parents sent us a gigantic package full of pasta, pesto, cake, Parmesan and Italian treats! For us Italians, Food = Love! 🍕🍝🥮🧀

At the end of that school year, my Coordinator Jana Hoffmann and my Manager Jennifer Brown asked if I would be interested in being a Local Coordinator for ETC. What a great way to combine my love of high schoolers and travel so I said YES! Saying good-bye to Chiara was not easy and many tears were shed but with promises of our future trip to Italy, she boarded the plane for home.

This year we are hosting Leon, our German son. He and Mason have hit it off and have fun discussing movie-making. They played soccer together and have both auditioned for the school play… and they both will be in the cast! Things haven’t been perfect… there are always a few bumps in the road…. but we communicate and work it out as a family does. I know it will not be easy to say good-bye to Leon but the GOOD of a hosting experience outweighs the BAD! Opening your heart to others can be so rewarding and it’s something I wish we would have done sooner. We will never be the same… we are better and we have learned a lot about the German and Italian cultures. We were blessed to be able to go to Italy last summer and meet Chiara’s family. What a thrill to be in their home and have them show us around their country! We also have offers to visit Leon’s family and other students we’ve gotten to know from Germany, France, Spain and more!

If you’ve read this all the way to the end, thank you! And I will send you a cookie. ;😉🍪

Believe me when I say that hosting a student is a blessing and a great learning adventure for the entire family! Treat your family to this experience and contact me if you are interested in opening your heart and home to one of our students.

Caitlin Duncan (Local Coordinator)

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I’m going to share a little bit of my heart with yall. This may get lengthy so bare with me. In 2017 I got a message from a friend asking if we have ever thought of hosting and exchange student. At the time, we were considering fostering but but thought that may not be where God is leading us. So when we got the message asking about hosting we thought hmmm🤔🤔 this might be for us. So we took the leap of faith and said yes!👏👏 

Fast forward a few months and we get our first precious girl, Bia Morais. Bia was amazing! She stole our hearts quickly! I finally knew what it felt like to have a daughter! We tell her she will always be our guinea pig and our test daughter.😂😂 (Sorry Bia if we totally scarred you!!) We had no idea what we were doing! 😂🤷‍♀️ Bia paved the way for the rest of this story! 

The next year we got 2 girls!!😂😳 🧍‍♀️🧍‍♀️Oh what a fun year that was!! Our hearts only grew more when they came into it. Our amazing girls , Lotte and Isabela Oliveira Da Rocha became sisters very quickly! They kept us on our toes all the time! From heart to heart talks and late night dance lessons. We laughed together and cried together. This year we have our sweet Mari Couto. From the time Mari’s plane landed, she hasnt slowed down since! She is so loving and adventurous and has even tried to give me a heart attack by making me go across a swinging bridge in Gatlinburg!🙅‍♀️😳🥴

Each one of these kids are now our kids! We love them like our own! The bond we made will last forever! I am now a local coordinator for this amazing company! I am able to watch the effects these kids have on other families! It has been such a blessing! It all started with a little faith and answering a message!

Kristie Halander (Assistant Field Manager)

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3 years ago this month, a total stranger messaged me and asked if I wanted to be a Local Coordinator with ETC. Just because I lived in Manassas. I don’t think that stranger knew how much that simple question would change not only my life, but the lives of my family and students throughout the world.

I immediately loved working with international students and host families, and my coworkers were amazing. But our first hosting experience didn’t go so well. In fact, I had no idea it could go so wrong! It made me wonder why on earth normal people would invite a complete stranger, a teen-ager, from another country to not only live with them, but actually invite them to be part of their family. And then I thought maybe our family isn’t normal? I mean, our family is far from perfect, we do have some extra challenges and lead busy lives…maybe our family just isn’t the right family to host. I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder what went wrong before we had a girl from Spain living with us while we searched for a new host family. Lourdes was only with us a few weeks, but she eagerly went camping for Spring Break, ate carrots and ranch dip by the gallon, did merit badges with Zack, and allowed Sami to go prom dress shopping with her. When Lourdes moved to her new host family, she boosted our spirits when she told us how much she enjoyed her time with us and she encouraged us to host another student.

A few months later, my Field Manager saw an application for a girl from Japan that might fit our family. I had never thought about hosting from Japan. I had lived and traveled throughout Europe, that’s what I was comfortable with. Japan seemed so….so….foreign?? After hours of discussion and analyzing every sentence in the application, we agreed to give it a try. From the very first email communication, we knew we had made the right decision. We loved Mifumi before she ever arrived. The day after Mifumi arrived, we decided to take a second student, just temporarily, because the deadline to find host families was just days away. Four days later, Habib arrived from Mexico. I am thankful that God saw the big picture in placing two students in our family, because quite honestly, I never would’ve chosen that on my own. I thought it would be too much work and cost too much (teen-agers can eat!), but the blessings of having 4 teen-agers far outweighed the work and grocery bill! After just 2 weeks in our family, we knew Habib would also be with us for the year. After such a rough first experience, here we were Halander party of 6….and loving it!

At the end of their exchange experience, both Mifumi and Habib’s family came to visit. How special to have Japanese and Mexican family here at the same time! We toured DC, ate authentic Japanese and Mexican food, shared a Thanksgiving dinner, watched Mifumi and Sami dance in their recital, and had a campfire with smores and sparklers. Saying good-bye was tough. Tougher than I ever expected. We were going to miss not only our international kids, but their families, as well. How amazing it is to feel like family after just a few short days together. Our house had been full of people, languages, laughter and food! It was extremely empty after they left….but not for long!!!

While Habib and Mifumi were still living with us….we saw Gabrielle’s application. (The first thing we asked him is if it was ok to give him an American nickname, because we couldn’t pronounce his Italian name!) Gabe’s application seemed to match our family. We were only going to host one student…but in May, we saw Leona’s application and immediately knew she would be a Halander, too! Call us crazy (many have!) but 2 worked so well the first time, we decided to do it again.
Six weeks after Mifumi and Habib returned to their home countries, Gabe and Leona arrived. They settled in so quickly to life in our family…it’s almost like they knew how to do it. (I later found out that my 4 international kids are all friends on what’s app and had been communicating for months!) This year, I am a band parent for the first time, as Leona plays the flute. Gabe is involved in BJJ and Boy Scouts. Our family feels complete again with 4 teen-agers! Actually, for 1 week in December, we had 5 teenagers, as Habib came back to visit. And we facetimed with Mifumi while decorating gingerbread houses, so for a few hours all 6 were together!

Gabe and Leona have experienced real life in our family – the good, the bad and the ugly. When our family had some personal trials (autism challenges and a health scare,) someone asked me why we were still hosting “extra kids” with everything going on. Our “extra kids” are such a blessing….not a burden. I appreciate that they do their chores and keep their room clean, but more than that, I appreciate their hearts! I love watching the four play board games or ride bikes together. I love hearing them laugh and even tease each other. They are siblings at heart.

Gabe went with me for one of Zack’s appointments. I introduced Gabe as my Italian son. The person filling out the forms said he wasn’t family and wouldn’t be allowed to visit Zack. Zack got mad and quickly informed the person that Gabe IS his BROTHER. Zack then told the person that he had a brother in Mexico, a sister in Japan, and a sister from Germany at home. Needless to say, ALL of my kids can visit Zack, because they are listed as immediate family.

Please don’t talk to us about June. We know it will be tough. Again. But we already have student #7 selected to arrive in August, because our family is better with “extra kids!”

In addition to the students we’ve personally hosted, I’ve had the opportunity to be a local coordinator to other students and host families. I know what it takes to host a student and appreciate host families so much! I am thankful for the friendships that develop as we host together. I’m thankful for the students I’ve gotten to know in the process and how much I’ve learned through them.

That’s my ETC hosting story. The highlights. There’s so much more I could tell you, but I was trying to be brief! That’s why I’ve probably asked you if you wanted to host a student. It has blessed my life, and the life of my family. I’d love it to bless your’s as well!

#ETCEXCHANGE #MyWhy #ETCexchangestudents

Kayla Rickett (Local Coordinator)

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I have always wanted a daughter, always. But god blessed me with the two, most precious boys I’ve ever laid eyes on. And then one night, my insomnia-induced Facebook browsing led me to a decision that has changed my life, for the better, forever.

I seen a post in a Facebook group about hosting an exchange student that peaked my interest. I had went to high school with a few (Trung Tran you’re still my favorite. Haha) and had the best experience seeing my home town and high school through somebody else’s eyes. So I talked with Nathan and we both agreed, why not give it a shot?

I requested more information on hosting a student and the next morning (mind you, this was like 1130 at night) this amazing lady, Teresa Owen Thompson, contacted me. A few hours later I had filled out a hosting application and picked out our first student! It happened SO fast, after I had tome to think about it, I had no clue what I had gotten myself into. Haha. Little did I know, that one decision opened up such an amazing opportunity for my family.

Fast forward 10 days and Teresa called me again and asked me if I was interested in being a local coordinator for the exchange company, because I had a couple of friends interested in hosting a student, too, so they needed somebody to oversee those students while they were here. Once again, sure! Why not?!

When Marina arrived, I was terrified! Wandering what I had gotten myself into. She probably thought we were crazy, and probably still does. Hahaha. But quickly, she was no longer just an exchange student, she was a member of our family. My boys absolutely adore her, their sister, and she is absolutely fantastic with them. She’s funny, sweet, there is never a dull moment. Had I know how amazing this would have been, I would have done it sooner.

And here I am, 7 months later, overseeing 6 of the sweetest girls from Spain, Germany, and Italy. I’ve made new lasting friendships with my amazing host families. I’ve traveled to San Diego and Miami, which is something I would have never done by myself if not for ETC.

Because of ETC I now have a daughter, lifelong friendships with some of the best ladies I have ever met, and a new understanding of “blood doesn’t make a family.” I am forever grateful for that Facebook post I found.

Chelsea Green (Local Coordinator)

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When I was a kid we hosted a fantastic exchange student from Brazil, Fabiana, she shared my room, acted as another big sister, and opened my eyes to the world outside of my hometown. We still keep in touch with her and she even visited my dad in Dubai on her honeymoon, we call her our Brazilian sister! My sister and I are even trying to plan a visit to see her and her family in the fall, this would be the first time we have seen her in person in over 20 years! How can we possibly have kept in touch with someone in another country for so long? Well we lost touch for a while (at least I did, I was like 10 years old!)but with the invention of Facebook and social media we are able to be involved in her life in real time. We are friends with her husband and follow along in their lives as they raise two young children and she fights for the rights of the elderly in her home country!

As an adult I have grown to love traveling and have been to 9 countries, but I realize that time and money do not allow me to travel ALL THE TIME like I would like to! I saw an ad on Facebook about a year ago to be a Local Coordinator for an exchange organization, I thought that could be a great way to make a little extra money and to experience life in other countries without having to travel, because you know, time and money are real things! I did my research and settled on Education, Travel, and Culture (ETC)! Now as one of my many jobs, I find host families for foreign exchange students! I look after kids from Spain, France, Vietnam, and more, making sure that they are enjoying their school year in the US with their volunteer families.

After a few months of this I realized I needed to be more involved, and I somehow wrangled my husband into hosting not 1 but 2 teenage girls! I know we sounded crazy to a lot of people but I really can’t imagine a better experience! If you have not met Emma and Emelie, you are missing out! Yes, I said Emma and Emelie, I don’t know why I tried to make it difficult on myself! Emma is 17 and came to us from Italy, she is quiet but has the funniest jokes. Emelie is from Germany, she is our talker and thinks America is the coolest of the cool. They have both invited us to visit them in their home countries which we plan to do but the thought of them going home is already making us both cry! I can’t wait to follow their journeys through graduation, college, marriage, children, and all of the other life events they will have.

I am so glad that we decided to host and that I get to be a part of ETC! Fulfilling the dreams of students from around the world and creating a community for them here in my hometown is one of my favorite things! It’s not always easy, but it is always an adventure! Thank you all for letting me post about our experiences and not unfollowing me when I post looking for families!

These kids are amazing and they would love to have you open your heart and home to them like we have! I promise you won’t regret it, at least until you are crying uncontrollably in the airport telling them goodbye for now!

Cassie Marez (Regional Manager)

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*It’s true, you can’t love someone more than you miss them.*

We had just moved from Albuquerque, NM to Charlotte, NC in the summer of 2016. I had been a host mom in August 2015 after answering a plea from my friend on Facebook. We had signed up to host another year, a boy from South Korea for the fall of 2016 when we found out Jerome’s transfer to North Carolina went through. We had to bow out of our commitment as we were going to move in the middle of July, way past the deadline for placing exchange students, or so I thought. We couldn’t guarantee we could have an open school district in Charlotte – we didn’t even know where we were going to live until two weeks before we left. When we arrived to Charlotte, I made contact with the single person I knew in North Carolina, a local coordinator I met at ETC’s annual conference that previous February. I was hoping she would give me a job. She did. She let me know we had 4 days before Charlotte’s deadline for applying and there was a spot available at our school. I told her I would look at profiles of students. *Jerome was going to kill me.* I promised that we would take a semester off from hosting because we were so new to Charlotte. I’m a liar.

I got on our database of students and started looking. I found a girl named Louisa, the last semester student. Maybe I could convince Jerome that a semester student wouldn’t be such a big commitment and I could get him on board. He saw right through it, but agreed – after all, Isabel was going to be starting high school where she did not know a single person. Might as well as have an instant friend and someone to go through it with. Louisa, a semester program girl that we would never have chosen under normal circumstances. Seriously. She was into things that Isabel had zero interest in: fashion, make-up, Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars. Worse, she wasn’t into soccer, which was Isabel’s passion. Even worse, when she showed up at the Charlotte airport, she was *vegetarian*, borderline vegan. What?!?!

And “instant friend” does not describe Isabel and Louisa’s relationship. They were impatient with each other, sometimes outright rude. Jerome was going to kill me for sure. We had had it with Louisa, we called our local coordinator to intervene. ETC is exceptional in its training of its local coordinators in mediation and coaching. We reset some expectations; the girls fought, cried, and became sisters. Meanwhile, in the background Louisa started to become a real member of the family (the dog even preferred her over me). We had a million experiences that I don’t have time to write (and you don’t have the patience to read, if you’re even still reading). Louisa left our home after an amazing semester. She left on Isabel’s 15th birthday. It was awful. *It’s true, you can’t love someone more than you miss them.*

We were so lucky just short of two years later, we were able to take Isabel and Xavier with us to Germany and we were hosted by Louisa’s family. We had much better luck than the girls did and immediately clicked with her parents, becoming “instant friends.”

Another year went by and we were able to visit Louisa’s family again in Germany, this time with Isaac. We were hosted again and grew our relationship with Louisa and her family even stronger. We truly love them and I know if we lived closer, her mother and I would be as close as sisters too.

Isabel looks forward to spending part of her summer with Louisa and her family this summer after her high school graduation. It feels so appropriate that their relationship will come full circle, from the first day of high school to the last. I have no doubt that we will be in attendance at Louisa’s wedding, and her at Isabel’s. I hope that her family will come visit Charlotte so we can show them the same hospitality here in the States that they’ve shown us in Germany twice.

Paula Pond (Local Coordinator)

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This story is #mywhy 8 1/2 years ago I was sitting in a meeting in my Bishop’s office (I was the Junior primary president at the time…..yes, we had so many kids at church that we needed 2 primary presidencies😆) when our Bishop mentioned that he had been contacted by a local coordinator, Sarah Candelaria, who needed to find a new host family for an exchange student at Volcano Vista High School who had to move from her current family. I remember writing the info in my notes and feeling some strange urgency to call and offer my family to host her. Gracen was 14 at the time, Gillian Pond was 6 and Garrett was 2. I figured if we moved our toddler out of his room and into ours then we would have a spare room to host – crazy huh?! But I always wanted a bigger family and was denied that due to health complications, so we gave it a shot and I made the call that changed everything.

Little did I know that bringing Naima Abdelcader from Sweden into our home would change our lives for the better. She was beautiful, sweet and smart, but it was a totally new challenge for our family to introduce a stranger into our lives. We were set in our ways, busy, noisy, a little crazy, and had food intolerances. Who would want to be a part of that??!! Turns out, we had had so much to learn from her and a lot to offer by opening our hearts.
Well, next came Cecilia Tang from China, Hannah Roe from Germany, Julien from France, Anna Lena Schmitz from Germany, Marta López Vidal from Spain, and now Mia Meier from Germany. Every one of these kids have become part of our family. They have each taught us so much about the world and how love is universal. My oldest daughter served an 18 month mission for our church in Belgium and the Netherlands between 2016-2018. Before she left, Gracen Pond told me that having exchange student experiences within our home gave her the courage to serve as a missionary in a foreign land.

I love that this is also my job. I get to bridge connections for international students and local families and help them navigate the adventures that our family has enjoyed over the years. I’m never surprised that we have so many wonderful repeat host families each year. Making connections with students (who grow up into the most amazing adults) and being their “American Mom” has brought me as much joy as my own beautiful children. I cry when they leave and I cry when they come back to visit or we get to visit them. No, not everything ran smoothly and we had ups and down and issues that had to be worked out, but we are better off because of each of them. I truly love those kiddos and can’t imagine life without them.
Forgive me for this long post, but it is so necessary that I record “my why”.

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