Life in the U.S.

Beyond the Departure: Part Two

This week, we are honored to feature Howard’s heartwarming story that began in 1970s when his family welcomed an exchange student from Germany. Spending a year with his host brother sparked a curiosity of international travel and other cultures. Uniting two worlds, they forged a bond that has persisted for over five decades, proving that the experience of hosting an exchange student can leave a lasting impact that goes beyond the departure!

Q: As Libby previously mentioned in Beyond the Departure: Part One, your family hosted a German boy when you were growing up. Could you share your experience and how it influenced your life? 

Jochen arrived from Muggensturm, Germany as an exchange student during my senior year in high school in western Illinois. He arrived with functional English, but gained easy fluency quickly and became an integral part of my social circle. Jochen was very clever and had a quick wit and a great sense of humor. He would, on occasion, feign a lack of understanding of English to get away with all kinds of hijinks, which we thought was absolutely hilarious as teenage boys. But more than that, he was our window to the rest of the world outside of our home country.

Jochen leaving for the US in 1971

I think it is fair to say that Jochen had a direct and dramatic influence on my life. About five years after we graduated and Jochen returned to Germany, I tentatively set out on my first international travel trip after taking a break from university studies. I arranged to visit Jochen in the northeastern German city of Clausthal-Zellerfeld, where he was studying and living with his partner Christiane, who is now his wife with whom he has three children.

In the end, Jochen quit his studies, and the three of us skied in the Harz Mountains and spent days and nights with students at the Technical University in Clausthal. There, I learned to speak German and enrolled for a semester of study. After less than a year, I returned home, but the allure of international experiences never left. To summarize the subsequent decades, I earned postgraduate qualifications in geophysics and lived in England, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Russia, and Australia, where I live today.

Jochen and I are still close friends and catch up whenever possible. He’s a noted automotive journalist now living in Frankfurt. We have visited each other in our homes and met for holidays in exotic locations in Italy, Russia, Austria, and elsewhere. Jochen’s oldest son even acted as an au pair for our daughter one year.

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that my exposure to an international exchange student who was so worldly, interesting, and diverse has steered me to who and where I am.

Q: How did you adjust to a new host sibling? 

Jochen was actually a year younger than my high school cohort, but we all graduated in 1972. He was smart, but it was also clear that the German education system put him at least one year ahead of his US peers. Having him around seemed so natural and easy that it required almost no adjustment. By the end of the year, Jochen found himself wandering around between the homes of about half a dozen of us in our social group, randomly staying overnight wherever he found himself. All our parents loved him, and we still have that easy familiarity today. In fact, when I lived in London, we arranged annual ski trips with Jochen and Christiane, where my daughter and their German children got along famously, even playing Scrabble, with my daughter using English words and Jochen’s daughter using German words.

A yearbook photo of Jochen in 1972

Q: Are there any particular memories that stand out from the time when your family hosted Jochen? Were there any surprising German customs/practices that you learned?

Jochen (or Jokin’ as we sometimes called him) was really quite hilarious. I remember distinctly in high school study hall when Jochen jumped up onto a desk and proceeded to run from one desktop to another and somehow convinced the supervising teacher that his was some kind of German custom. But on a more serious note I was always taken aback at how open minded Jochen was, never starting sentences with ‘In Germany we…’. Quite to the contrary, he dove into our sometimes quite awful pizza, ribs, and soft drinks with an inquisitive mind and openness to try new things that I like to think rubbed off on me in my exploits.

Q: Do you have any advice for future host families/siblings?

Remember that exchange students are just people. If they are treated with the same respect with which you would treat your own siblings, children, or friends, all will be fine.

Are you interested in making a student a part of your family for the upcoming year? We are still looking for American host families to welcome a student in the fall! Check out the profiles of our wonderful students for the upcoming 23/24 year!