Eight Visiting High School Students and Their Local Host Families Share Their Perspectives

Jenny Mathews, contributing writer

“YOU’RE HOSTING AN exchange student for how long?!”

This has been a common response when others learn we decided to welcome a teenager from another country into our home for an entire school year. It did seem scary at first. It wasn’t something we had considered before, nor a decision we came to lightly, but now six months into the journey our student, Alina, a 16-year old from Germany, has become like a member of our family. We consider it an honor to have her with us and we’re loving her cute personality, learning about her family and country, and sharing our own community, culture, and traditions with her. We did not anticipate how much our own children and other family members would come to care for Alina, something she has both appreciated and adjusted to graciously.

Cache Valley currently has eight students involved in the Education First (EF) program. EF was founded in Sweden

The Isaacson family with their student Emily

in 1965 with the goal to “open the world through education.” High school in the United States is very different from that in the 114 countries with ties to EF. Students come here excited to improve their English and try the many extracurricular programs, sports, arts, and school spirit that American high schools are known for.

As local program coordinators, DeVon and Lee Labrum of Millville have remarked, “We have always been in awe of the natural parents’ courage and level of trust to send their children across the world.”

Sofie from Denmark said, “My Dad wanted to do an exchange when he was a kid but couldn’t. He was so excited to be able to give me this opportunity. I was inspired to do it for him.”

Last August the Nisbet family of Millville welcomed Thea from Sweden. “Almost from the day we picked Thea up from the airport she’s felt like one of the family and just really ‘fit in,” they said.

Their favorite moments so far have been the daily things like watching her and their daughter experience having a sister for the first time, making Swedish pancakes, and when she participated in their family Christmas traditions.
The Nielson family of Smithfield feel that Frederik from Denmark was a perfect fit for their active, adventurous little family. They feel that Cache Valley is a wonderful place for exchange students because of its beauty, the variety of outdoor activities, and, most of all, the people. For host mom, Becky Nielson, having Frederik here has taught her to challenge her thinking, beliefs, and pretty much everything about her typical “Utah” life. “It has been such a great, challenging, inspiring, and fun experience,” she said.

Jonathan from Denmark said, “People are more nice and open here, especially once they hear you are a foreign exchange student. It takes some time to get to know people in Denmark.”

Victoria from Sweden said, “It’s so pretty here and so different from Sweden in every way. We don’t have any mountains at all.”

Mathews family with their student Alina

Adding a teenager to a home can present some challenges, but each of the eight families I interviewed categorized the challenges more as, “opportunities to learn.” Among other things, they’ve learned to communicate better, be deliberate about their rules, time, and family structures, and consider new ways to do things. The students admit that there have been challenges for them as well, but value the many ways addressing these challenges has helped them grow.

Alina from Germany said, “I have learned that I am able to handle situations I’m not used to and can push through hard situations. I’ve also learned it is important to be open to other people.”

Sofie from Denmark said, “My host family has taught me that our different beliefs are something that we can learn from each other.”

Over the last eight years, the Labrums have placed dozens of students with local families. “We work hard to select students who are active, outgoing, and love to be involved,” they said. “Having an association with these individuals is and has been very rewarding.”

For more information on becoming a host family, contact DeVon and Lee by phone at (435) 764-0057, or by email at ddlabrum@gmail.com.