Hosting / Life in the U.S.

Opening Hearts and Homes since 1994: Part One

Step into the lifelong journey of a compassionate family from Colorado, who has opened their heart and home to the world! For nearly three decades, since the year 1994, Susan and her family have hosted an impressive total of 22 students from around the globe. Beyond her time as a host parent, Susan has also been a guiding light as an International Coordinator and Team Manager for over 200 students. Hear Susan and her family’s motivations, the cherished memories they’ve experienced, and how their children have flourished in the company of their ever-expanding family of host siblings.

Q: What initially inspired you to start hosting?

Well, just a little bit of background. My husband is dual citizen, US and Austrian, so he spent a lot of his childhood summers in Austria. He felt like this was a way to give back to all the good experiences that he’s had throughout his life. 

We had our first student in 1994 when we lived in Toledo, OH. There was an announcement in our church bulletin asking for a semester girl for a home and we said yes! At that time, I was 7 and 1/2 months pregnant with my second child and had a one-year-old. 

Susan and her family with Christine from Germany (right), 1994.

We both like to travel a lot, but realistically speaking, it was kind of a crazy time for us. We just knew that we were going to raise our children with a lot of bicultural things between Europe and the US, so that was more along the thinking and it just happened to fall in our lap at the time. 

Susan and her family with Maria Cecilia from Brazil (right), 1995.

Q: What was hosting like when your children were small? 

I’ll give you two answers. When they were in school, it was pretty fun. For example, Kathi, our student in Utah that we had, would paint their nails and I had 2 little girls at the time and an older son while being pregnant with my younger son. They just did all kinds of fun, girly stuff. I couldn’t have asked for a better kid for my girls. Well, for all my kids, she was very family oriented. My older kids are now in their 20s and they’re used to it, but they still buy our students Christmas gifts every year and our host kids buy gifts for them.

Susan and her family with Kathi from Germany (right), 1999.

Q: Has it affected your children’s outlook on life, the world, and if yes, how?

One thing I can honestly say about my kids is that they are so open minded. They don’t see race, they don’t see color. They don’t see weight, they don’t see purple hair. All four of them just have that clean slate and they’re among the least judgmental people I know. So I mean, they just don’t see any of that. They don’t tolerate injustice and don’t put up with those things. They give whatever they can for the better of other people. Katrina, my second child, she’s a huge women rights advocate. They know that they can bring anybody home to us. It’s a really beautiful thing. It’s important while you’re raising children to not have those barriers. 

Susan and her family with Vasil from Belarus (front left), 2004.

My oldest son, Alex, has Aspergers and he’s very high functioning. When he was about 15 years old, he said to me, “Mom, I am so glad you’ve had all this experience with teenagers because you’re a much better mom to us”. I thought that was the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard from him. He’s a good kid.

Katrin from Germany (center) with the Erker family, 2005.

Q: Are there any special moments or experiences while your family hosted?

Every student has been a different experience. One time somebody asked me which of our two students are most alike, and I was talking with Eric, my husband, and none of them really! I mean, it’s all completely different.

Snow day with Susan’s family and Riham from Lebanon (left), 2007.

I remember we had a super fun family photo shoot with Ludovico from Italy. He was really into country music, which is hilarious knowing most Europeans. He spent some time in Houston and he really loved country music. My photographer had this huge Silverado truck and we all dressed up in plaid shirts and our hats. It was so much fun doing that family shoot with him.

Country photoshoot with Susan, her family, and Ludovico from Italy (right), 2013

More recently, we did a 1600 mile spring break trip during COVID with our two girls, Jo from Germany and Soline from Belgium. We drove from Denver to Colorado Springs to Santa Fe, NM, up through Flagstaff, and Sedona and Durango. Lake Powell was in that too! We did a big huge circle because there wasn’t a lot that we could do that week or that year because of COVID. They were almost entirely remote, so we did a lot of road trips with them. 

Susan and her family playing a game of football with Mark from Denmark (center of bottom row), 2008.

I was also incredibly blessed to be able to travel to Lebanon twice. The second time I was actually in my Lebanese host son’s wedding in the wedding party. I’m still very, very, very close to his family. It was such an amazing experience. We just had our 7th international grandchild last November from our Kuwaiti host son and his wife. Six of our host kids are married. The oldest now is 44 and the youngest is 17. 

Soccer day with Susan’s family and Slaiman from Kuwait (center), 2011.

Q: What has been your family’s process in choosing the “perfect student” for your family?

Well, it was quite different when my children were young than it is now. I have to feel a connection when I’m reading a student application. When our kids were younger, and I’ll use Kati or another German daughter of ours as an example. As I mentioned previously, Alex has Aspergers, and I had three younger kids, so I was looking for a kid who had younger siblings and one of her sisters was special needs. She was perfect!

Susan and her family with Emanuele from Italy (center right), 2014.

I’m pretty good about helping families with young children pick the right student, so that’s what we looked at. When our kids were in high school, I wanted someone that would have at least have something in common with each one of us. We’re a big family and I would say the majority of our kids connected with three or four of us, better than the other two, but there were a couple of students that connected with all six of us. You want them to have something in common with your family.

Susan and her family with Julie from Denmark (third from the left), 2012.

Q: Do you think your family’s hosting has affected anybody else in your network?

My family and Eric’s family, including his brother, have treated all of our exchange kids as our own kid. They have that acceptance – this is what Eric and Susan’s family is made of and just who we are. A lot of my friends have hosted including both of my best friends. My close friend, Elizabeth, is a coordinator, and we met through exchange. A lot of my adult friendships have been former host families. My other bestie hosted a boy from Lebanon as well, who’s now living in Canada, and he’s been back many times. All of our friends have a genuine interest and there is a ripple effect that inspires travel in our community.

Susan’s Wall of Fame showing all the students that her family has hosted over the course of nearly three decades!

Stay tuned for part two, where we dive into Susan’s journey as an International Coordinator and Aspect Manager. Discover why she chose this incredible role and join her as she shares the remarkable experiences she’s gained while supervising students from all corners of the globe and helping fellow International Coordinators around the country!

Are you interested in making a student a part of your family for the spring 2024 semester? Submit an inquiry and you’ll be the first to hear when profiles of our first spring 2024 semester students go online!