Exchange Student Looks Back On Her High School Year Abroad 10 Years Later

When you decide to welcome an exchange student into your heart and home, you may not know what to expect. Each journey and relationship is different, but each one is filled with learning, love, and memories that will last a lifetime. And sometimes students and host families don’t realize just how much of an impact their experiences together have had on them until years have passed. STS Foundation has been bringing American families and international students together since 1986, and we love seeing the long-term, global impact exchange has on us all.

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Lydia from Sweden was an exchange student with STS Foundation in 2013. She recently took time to celebrate the year she spent with her host family and exchange sister from Germany, and shared with us what she felt going into her exchange year, and how she looks at her experience now.

“I was a young girl with many dreams and high expectations on my exchange year before I left Sweden for 10 months in Texas. I could never have imagined what I had ahead of me before I got on that plane an early morning at the beginning of August 2013.

I was ready for my new life, meeting new people and getting to know the people that would be my family for the upcoming school year. I had created this picture in my mind that I was going to be the only exchange student in my host family, wasn’t going to miss home because I was living my dream, and only a few days in on my exchange year that changed. We decided to be a welcome family for this girl from Germany, so the picture that I had created for myself changed really quickly and I understood that this year might be something totally different from what I had imagined.

I was right, my exchange year was nothing like I had envisioned, it was better in every single way. I had never expected that someone that you aren’t related to could feel so much like family in such a short time even if I had hoped that they would become my family, one of the biggest surprises in the shape of a host sister would be that most important person for me during this year. You learn things when you move across the world to a place you only dream about. I got to figure things out by myself and learn to accept that things don’t always work out as you had envisioned them to and that is okay, it’s okay to miss your home and that doesn’t mean that you don’t like it where you are or that it’s bad. You are just lucky to have two places that you love and family in different countries that you love. You learn to appreciate all the small things in life and maybe they aren’t so small. 

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Even if I dreamed of a host family that I would stay in touch with after I went back home to Sweden I could never have imagined that my host family would have come to my graduation two years later, that we would keep in touch every month for the next ten years, and that I get to go on new adventures and create so many new memories together with them so many years after my exchange year. I have learned that an exchange year isn’t just 10 months or a school year it’s a lifelong journey that will bring you so much joy and happiness.

10 years later and the appreciation that I feel for my host family just grows every year and I’m so happy that they decided to let me and my host sister in and to be a part of their family. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for us.”

Lydia isn’t the only one who feels the family connection even after all these years. Here’s what her host family, Sherrie and Terry Lanham, had to say about their time together:

“Our school year with Lydia and Christa was a year together as:  family. Lydia and Christa became sisters, and both girls became our foreign daughters and members of our American family. We learned together, we experienced the ups and downs of family life together, and we formed a family bond that will never be broken.

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When Lydia and Christa were together in one of their rooms, we could hear the laughter and genuine friendship that they nurtured and shared. And we smiled and were thankful that their lives could be touched in such a meaningful way through the exchange experience.

Both Lydia and Christa were (and are) respectful and thoughtful, and the school year went too fast. Thankfully, we have been able to visit both girls and their families in their native homelands and cultures, and the girls have returned several times to their Texas home.

Hosting has opened our minds and hearts to new understandings about the peoples and cultures of our world; it has been from our students that we have learned so much about their countries, their cultures, and their day-to-day lives. We learned to take nothing for granted about our students, and learned how to introduce them, with understanding and patience, to our American culture.”

Give your family and community the gift of cultural exchange, and you’ll soon realize you’ve also given yourself the gift of a new family member! The bonds made through student exchange last a lifetime. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to join the 30,000+ American families who welcome a new culture and new family member into their home each year!

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Exchange Student Looks Back On Her High School Year Abroad 10 Years Later

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