Exchanging Ideas

International students and their host families learn from each other.

Edina families regularly and generously open their homes to students from other countries who want to study in America. It’s been a wonderful experience for these families and students.

The Rogers Family

Anne-Marie Rogers and her husband Britt have hosted international students for four years and plan to continue. Students who’ve lived with them stay in touch after returning home, and the Rogerses consider each student they’ve hosted as part of their family.

Sebastian Bode from Germany is living with the Rogers family this school year. He likes attending school in Edina and thinks that becoming more fluent in English is important. But he also points to other benefits of studying abroad—“You learn how to get more independent and how to solve problems and other things that will be helpful in your future education and in life in general.”

Rodrigo Loureiro from Brazil lived with the Rogers family two years ago and is currently a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. He agrees with Sebastian that there are benefits to the exchange program that go beyond education. “I am always willing to try new things; being open-minded has changed my life,” Rodrigo says. “I will always keep trying new things, because life is short and you shouldn’t be afraid of anything.”

Anne-Marie has helped a number of international students navigate the fear of new situations. She says, “I think the exchange kids are so brave—it is sometimes hard to break in—but they have all made good friends and had some great experiences. And we feel so lucky. They have all been amazing boys and are all part of our extended family.”

The international exchange experience can be stressful for a student’s family back home, too. Imagine sending your teenage child across the world for many months. Established and supportive host families can help parents feel at ease. Matti Liebetreu from Germany says, “Always when they talked or texted with Anne-Marie and Britt, my parents were completely sure that they give all they have for their exchange students.”

The Steen Family

Ted Steen and his wife Sue are empty-nesters who had never hosted an international student before, but have always been very happy to host friends and family. “We’re very comfortable with guests in our home,” Ted says. “[Hosting a student] was not a big step for us in that sense.” But they did worry a bit about the things they’d heard other families mention—a kid who is very homesick, or not cooperative about following family rules. Ted is quick to say that they need not have worried about that. Their current exchange student, Jakub Ciemiega, from Poland, is spending this school year with the Steens, and Ted says simply, “He could not be a better young man.”

Jakub is 18 years old and is no stranger to exchange programs, having studied in several European countries and even in Asia. But this is his first academic exchange in the United States. He considered coming to America with a program when he was 16 but is glad he waited. “I think I understand the benefits of being here much better now than I would have then,” he says. Being more mature and having a better sense of what he wants to study when he goes to university, he can see how the differences in the American system of education can be beneficial to him this year. He says, “In Poland [at the high school level] you take classes only in your major area of study. I like being able to take classes in different things that seem interesting. More choice makes school feel more fun.”

Ted Steen says that he and Sue would definitely consider hosting again, but adds that he worries a bit about doing that because, “It would be hard for somebody to live up to [Jakub].”

The McGrath Family

Stacy McGrath learned about hosting international students through the Edina Rotary Club. Rotary has an exchange student liaison who met with McGrath over coffee. After hearing about the program and reading about hosting, McGrath and her husband decided to apply to be a host family. This is their first year, but she says they would definitely consider doing it again.

The McGraths are hosting Justine Onana from Belgium and McGrath says they don’t think of her as an exchange student; they just treat her like family.

“My family and I learned that [the term] ‘exchange student’ sounds so flat and business-like,” McGrath says. “That’s not what hosting an exchange student is about. It’s about building a relationship and supporting another as you would your own family in a world that is completely foreign to them. That’s a lot of trust Justine and her family had for us without ever knowing us.”

The McGraths have been pleased at how well Justine has adapted and made friends. It helps that she is comfortable around new people and is naturally friendly. McGrath says, “Justine walks into a new room and starts talking to new people. She is not afraid of the language and customs and is very outgoing.”

McGrath knows that some students struggle, especially at first. The Rotary Club hosts orientation for families before students arrive. During orientation, other families share experiences, and the McGraths heard that some kids get really homesick or find the language more challenging than they anticipated. So they feel especially lucky to have gained a new family member like Justine, who isn’t worried about fitting in or struggling with missing her family back home. “Justine is an amazing addition to our family,” says McGrath.