By Brenda Hornberger - Regional Administrator
My husband and I just returned from our first vacation in over 20 years that had nothing to do with an exchange student – either visiting one in their home country or taking one someplace to explore this beautiful country we live in. I’m not complaining – it was just a realization that came to me on our trip. We were in the mountains of western South Carolina when the thought popped into my head. I looked at my husband and said “I really like what we have done with our lives.” He looked at me like “where did that come from”, but when I explained he agreed. We really like what we have done with our lives.
We are both from relatively rural Pennsylvania. Did you know that statistics show that “Once a Pennsylvanian, always a Pennsylvanian”? Yes, we are born here, we live here all our lives, we die here. And then you add into that equation that I am from Lancaster County – the home of the reclusive Amish – and he is from just across the border in Berks County and you have a recipe for never traveling further than the Jersey Shore for 1 week of summer vacation. And that is pretty much who we were. Other than 4 years of military service that took my husband to South Carolina, Sicily, and Crete, that’s who we were.
And then we discovered this magical thing called “hosting exchange students” and we never looked back!
Our first experience was with a summer program. We hosted a young man from France who made me realize how sheltered my life had been. We lived about a 2-1/2 hour drive from New York City and I had never been there! My husband had on a school trip, but not me. The exchange group was taking a trip to the Statue of Liberty and the student was asking me simple questions that I couldn’t answer! But that started to change the very next year when we hosted our first year-long student.
That first trip to New York, we were the typical frightened country-folk coming to the big city. There was no way you were getting us on a subway! We might get mugged! It was underground! And it was confusing! I was a white-knuckle passenger when we drove the beltway around Washington, DC. So we took bus trips and we walked the cities. We also didn’t fly. Not because of fear. Because that was something rich people did and we weren’t rich.
Now? I’m very proud to say that I’ve been to New York City more times than I can count. I know the subway lines. Maybe not like a native, but I can make my way around the city and beyond with very little trouble. And, I’m driving 15-passenger vans filled with kids around the Washington beltway! And, we are flying! All over the world! We have now explored 49 of our 50 states, I have been to 18 different countries (my husband is a few behind me in countries), and we don’t plan on stopping any time soon!
I’m not trying to brag or one-up anyone. I am sharing how taking that first step and opening your heart and home to a teenager (who is braver than I used to be!) can change your life forever! It did ours. Give SHARE! a call. We’ll be happy to help you change your lives forever too!