Nine months as a host family to a Swedish exchange student was one of the best periods of time in our lives. We were raising our own three young children when the opportunity to host a foreign student arose, and we only thought about it for a short while before we said yes. It was a good decision, and one that had a lasting impact on our lives.
Helena was 18 and going to be a senior in her high school in Sweden. She was a mature, artistic, and intelligent young woman who fit nicely into our family. She attended her senior year in our local public school system. During that time, she brought as much information to us as she was getting as a student. We learned about family life in Sweden and the customs and traditions in the south of Sweden where she lived. We learned to love the food she enjoyed and still love it today. We became familiar with Sweden’s educational system, transportation, political system, taxation, health care, and construction. We learned some of the language, history, different sports and types of recreation, and what they liked about the United States. We also learned what they didn’t like, and what things they couldn’t get in Sweden that were available here. We learned to love their music and their traditional dress. My husband and I still wear clogs and take them off at the door.
The social events of the exchange program were enlightening, and it was wonderful cultural exposure for our own children. We had a gathering of all the host families in the southeastern area of Pennsylvania from time to time. These were called “Internationales” and involved sharing of stories, entertainment, food prepared by the students – the favorites of their homeland, and usually a dance. Also, we saw the other host families in our group of as we attended social activities at their homes. The 11 exchange students were a very diverse but cohesive group, representing many countries around the world. In the course of the nine months we also learned much about the cultures of the other students. Many of the friendships made are still thriving.
Hosting an exchange student is an educational experience as well as a valuable lesson in the opening of hearts and minds. Our family was fortunate to have been able to host a very lovely person who felt at home with us and went out of her way to engage herself in our family life. We had many good times and made lots of memories. She is now a married woman with two beautiful children, and is a successful physical therapist in Sweden. Their family visits back to the U.S. have been like visits with a daughter and her family. We will be forever grateful for our experiences while hosting a foreign exchange student.