I took a part-time job in 2010 that was very rewarding. My job was to find host families for foreign exchange students for the school year. Once they arrived I then supervised them to make sure they were doing well and experiencing the American way of life.
It all started when a family in Madison was going to host a girl from Brazil. Their supervisor had quit and they needed to have a supervisor in order for her to come to Minnesota. CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) contacted me to see if I would be a local coordinator. I said yes, allowing the teenage girl to come to Madison and live with her host family. I had a wonderful experience working with the family and watching Gabriela experience living in Madison and attending Lac qui Parle Valley High School. We had her over to our home for dinner and learned about her way of life in Brazil. This was my first experience with CIEE.
I decided to stay on with CIEE and over the next few years built relationships with families and exchange students from around the world. It takes special families to take in a teenager from another country to live with them for a year. Most families had other children so it was a great learning experience for everyone. You learn how other people live, you get to experience another language, different foods, religions, education and traditions. It was a blessing to get to know these exchange students. Thanks to social media I stay in touch with all of them and their parents. These are relationships that last a lifetime.
This week one of the exchange students came back to visit her host family, David and Pat Redepenning from Madison and see some of her high school friends from LQPV. Eye is from Thailand and is currently going to school at the University of Michigan. Roxie and I haven’t seen her in 9 years. In 2012 Pat and David took 2 students to live with them, which is unusual. But that’s what they wanted to do and CIEE approved it. So they had Eye from Thailand and Patricia from Germany live with them for the school year. What an experience for all of them and me. It couldn’t have gone better.
Spending time with Eye this week brought back many good memories for both of us. We both laughed at recalling some of her experiences while she lived in Madison. One story is pretty funny. Pat, David, Patricia and Eye decided to pull a prank on me. One of my jobs as a supervisor was to monitor them to make sure they were safe and that they felt safe. I also made sure they were getting the most out of their experience while in America and were having fun. I also needed to make sure they were making good decisions and staying out of trouble. One day David walked into the radio station and said that Patricia and Eye had gotten in a little bit of trouble with the police last night. My heart sank hearing this. I asked what kind of trouble? They were using chalk and drawing on the city streets. Well, that was a relief, I was thinking the worse case scenario, knowing if they committed a crime they would be sent back to their home country. They all had a good laugh, knowing that I would be worried sick about them getting in trouble with the police. There was more to this story, but that was the jest of it.
Eye told Roxie and me over lunch that her year living in Madison with the Redepennings was the best year of her life. She loves Minnesota and the United States. There are so many opportunities for her. Currently she is studying Aero-Space Engineering at the University of Michigan. Eye is a very kind soul and last year she had thyroid cancer which set her back. She is doing fine now. Hearing Eye talk about her experience while living in Madison and her time at Lac qui Parle Valley and the Redepennings is really heart warming.
I have relationships with other exchange students like I do with Eye. Dana from Kazakhstan visited the Kafka family last summer and Brenda and Dana stopped by the radio station to visit me one day. Dan and Brenda Kafka are from Ortonville and have opened up their home to many exchange students. They have built lifelong relationships with many students and their families. That is what CIEE is all about.
We were at the Pantry for lunch, Eye spotted Phaeth who works at the Pantry and asked if she was from Thailand. I told her she was and I had Phaeth come over to our table. They both spoke Thai to each other and laughed. They hit it off pretty good. Eye said she will be back and encouraged us to visit her in Michigan or Thailand someday. We are friends with her parents on Facebook and it would be nice someday to meet them. It was hard again to say goodbye to Eye. That is the hardest part.