Why would anyone want to host a teenager from another country?

By Mari Karlsson - Regional Director

Why would anyone want to host a teenager from another country?  That question never entered my mind when I hosted my very first student 30 years ago. All my family and I could think of was how exciting to have a teen from another country… and exciting it was!

August arrived quickly and there we were at the airport waiting nervously at the gate for our student, Erik, to make his appearance.  Before long, here comes this lanky blonde hair blue eyed kid wearing white pants and a pink shirt.  It was great to finally meet him in person after all the letters and photos back and forth via mail.  (Today mailing letters is almost unheard of!)

What we learned the first few days Erik was here was that he loved jelly donuts and couldn’t get enough. He thought it was too hot and humid in the Midwest because it never gets so hot in Sweden. He had an old pair of jeans that he kept patching up with leather and it was the coolest pair of jeans that I’ve ever seen, but Levi’s were much more expensive in Sweden so it was typical to create your own style.

Riding a school bus was also unheard of until Erik was in the US. Often the kids in Sweden walked to school in their community or rode a public bus. There was no such thing as a snow day in Sweden and he came to love the days when school was closed and then laughed at how little snow it was compared to Sweden. He thought making ice cream was ridiculous… that is, until he ate it for the first time! Homecomings, proms, playing soccer on the school team were all firsts for Erik, too. He learned that sports were not just a school activity, they created community. Another new lesson in the US was that you can’t move a waterbed unless it’s emptied first (Ask me how he learned this one!)

What I learned most was, you can love someone else’s child as your own. They open your eyes to the corner of the world you live in while sharing their world with you.  Hosting my first student led to hosting 20 more students after Erik. 

The foreign teens enriched my own children’s lives and gave them first hand opportunities they never would have had if we had not hosted our very first student, Erik. When my oldest son went off to college, he saw some Asian kids who had that lost look on their faces.  Being who he is and how he grew up, he smiled and offered them some help knowing just how lost they were in a strange land.

One thing is for certain, I gained another son who I still keep in contact with and see every so often whether in the US or Sweden. Now we wait expectantly for the second generation to send their kids to my adult children’s homes!