Life Abroad

Host Family Spotlight – Another Dream Exchange!

Today, we are shining the spotlight on a wonderful family who tells us how hosting multiple students at once and doing it year after year brings them reoccurring, unexpected joy and lasting friendships from around the world! This year, they have been hosting two boys, Filippo from Italy and Wences from Spain – an experience that host mom Teresa describes as “another dream exchange”. 

What are the benefits of being a repeat host family?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to write about our first year of hosting an exchange student. Louis came to us by chance, almost on a whim.  We had talked about the dream of hosting a student long before we started a family of our own. Four grown children later, we began our journey across Europe. It started in Germany, then Finland, Norway and Italy, and this year another double placement from Spain and Italy.  Our fourth year of hosting is as rewarding, surprising, and at times as overwhelming as the first.

As my grown children get busier and more independent in their lives, the home grows quieter, the silence becomes deafening and we have a lot of space here to fill. So each year brings the promise of new life, love, and learning about ourselves in this (not so big) world around us. Like my own children, our exchange children have all been different in trait, personality, habit and temperament. But, they are all similar in that they want what all kids need…..a supportive family, unconditional love and acceptance from their parents, and a safe, fun home.  Since I always wanted a “houseful of kids”, exchange gives me the opportunity to have the large family I always wanted. Each new year brings new lessons to be learned from all over the world without leaving home. But, one of the biggest surprises of all is that we have discovered how small the world really is and now we have the chance to explore it with these children and their families. What amazing parents we have friended and visited! We haven’t met them all yet but, I can’t wait to thank them in person for sending their precious gifts to us. The chocolates, treats, and holiday cards are always great too!

What made you decide to host two students at once?

After our youngest son’s friends became older and graduated high school, we decided to host a double placement. We felt it would be easier and more fun for two students to adapt and stay busy together; maybe, less chance to be bored. Our first year of doubles was anything but boring. Two boys who were from different worlds became very close and I think they had the time of their lives making memories they will never quit talking about.

This brings me to the two students we are currently hosting this year. Wenceslao from Spain and Filippo from Italy. Their cultures may be similar in language and lifestyle, but it certainly has given them an instant kinship and hopefully easier adjustment to their new and strange environment. It never ceases to amaze me how brave all of these students are to leave behind everything and everybody they have known in their short lives to travel halfway around the world not really knowing or understanding what they are getting themselves into.

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Filippo and Wences sporting their new American haircuts from Rachel

Do you have any special memories and/or traditions that you’ve created together as a family?

The boys this year have been absolutely delightful every day. They get along great and both enjoy the active lifestyle of American high school sports. They have enjoyed our family traditions of Sunday kitten ball and will always remember the Christmas Eve in America when they played kitten ball in the snow! (For those who don’t know, kitten ball is the large, 16” softball). On all other winter Sundays we gather in our shed and play Risk, and foosball. They are currently enjoying March Madness and are anxiously awaiting the start of the MLB season as they will be cheering on America’s favorite team…..and our family favorite…the Chicago Cubbies!!!   They saw the Packers play in Green Bay in the fall. It was a first for us also as we have made many trips to Wisconsin to visit friends and enjoy Brewers baseball but, had never been to an NFL game.

The boys have blended easily into our family life and it’s always a joy to see them interact with their American siblings. They have no idea yet how quickly the year will end and how difficult it is, for some of us, to say goodbye. But, the most important lesson of the entire experience is that it isn’t the end at all. It is truly just the beginning. (Please remind me of that when I put them on the planes to go home.) Because, it is the first chapter of a lifetime relationship with not only them but, their respective families. One of greatest rewards of all is the gratitude their families express for embracing their children during this critical time of their young lives. It is our pleasure entirely! What fun it is to learn about their cultures and the places they have been!

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Filippo and Wences interviewed after senior night game with their host parents Don and Teresa!

Host mom, Teresa summarizes what Filippo’s and Wences’s experiences have been like so far as an American teenager in Illinois:

Filippo says it has been an unbelievable life-changing experience. He has enjoyed the Friday night football here, as he plays it also back home in Italy. He also enjoyed basketball, track, scholastic bowl team, Spanish Club, and Interact Club.  He feels the difference between Italy and Illinois are obvious: ”It’s too cold here for me!!” He also says in Italy the women there are not as beautiful as his host sisters in Illinois and of course the food is better in Italy where they have prosciutto! He says our countries are similar in that both he can “easily dominate at foosball” and claims title to half of the “best team in Mason County!”  Some of his favorite things about Illinois are the corn and the Cubs!

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Filippo caught his chicken barehanded during FFA week activities!

He says “For me, every day of normal life is an amazing experience that I’m glad to have.  Going to school with American teenagers, play sports with them and understand their lives is the true point of my exchange experience.”

Wences says his experience has also been great. He has met a lot of new and amazing people that he will never forget. He has participated in football, basketball, track and the Peoria Area Rugby Renegade Club, Spanish Club, and Interact Club.  Skiing in Wisconsin with his host family was a memorable experience for him.

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Wences with host sister Elizabeth.

He says the lifestyle in the U.S. is really different compared to Spain. Here, “I feel like they give a lot of importance to sports compared to Spain. Also, the climate is pretty different. Here in the state of Illinois, it can get really cold but, also really warm.”  He says that he likes that his host family lives here but, he hates the cold and wind! He says he has had a lot of great memorable moments with his host family. “We are always having fun and laughing.”

Teresa’s final message to all prospective host families:

To anyone who has ever given thought to hosting a student from another country, DO IT!!! If you want to learn about other countries, their cultures, and travel the world from your couch; if you want to open the minds and opportunities of the youth in your community, teach the kids that they really have it easy in American high schools; if you can’t stand the empty nest or want to avoid it in any way possible, host a student. If you want to make someone’s dream come true, or want a reason to go to Friday night football games or basketball games, go to the aspectFoundation.org website and apply. It’s super easy and the most rewarding experience you’ll ever have.  All the information is there for you.
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We are also fortunate to have one of the greatest coordinators in Stacy B. She is always there for us, the kids, and families to make the best year and experience possible for all. Maybe we have been lucky but, knowing what qualities you are looking for are important because we have been blessed to have received some of the greatest kids from Europe. They have changed our lives forever! Give one or two a chance of a lifetime. You won’t regret it.

 – Teresa Q, repeat host mom in Illinois

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