At Home An Ocean Away

Area Families Host International Students

Posted: July 17, 2013

The International Student Exchange organization pairs area families with students from all over the world, such as those above. Host families are responsible for providing access to school, sleeping arrangements, meals and a welcoming environment. (Photo by Courtesy photo)

In April, Woodstock local David Falkenstein was fascinated when his brother brought an Icelandic friend to visit.

“I just picked his brain. I asked him what [Icelanders] ate, what they wore, what they did,” he recalled. “It’s not every day you meet someone from Iceland!”

Later that evening, David, an engineer, remembered seeing an advertisement for the International Student Exchange organization expressing a need for local host families. With only one of his four children still at home, he realized it was the ideal time for his family to host a student. He discussed the idea with his wife, Faith, who quickly got on board.

“Faith and I are both intrigued by other cultures,” he said. “We want to learn about the foods they eat and the holidays they celebrate.”

Additionally, David liked the idea of having the opportunity to dispel negative stereotypes about Americans.

“There are a lot of countries right now that don’t like the U.S.,” he pointed out. “I think it’s every American’s duty to be an ambassador.”

After their application to ISE was accepted, the couple went to work selecting their student. According to Faith, they looked through many profiles before choosing Annika, a soon-to-be 17-year-old from Germany.

“We had a lot of the same interests,” explained Faith, adding that she enjoys volleyball, camping and playing the piano.

Though she won’t arrive until the end of the summer, the couple has spoken to Annika and her parents via Skype.

“She seems adventurous,” praised David. “She seems very willing to embrace the American lifestyle …  I think this kid is coming here for all the right reasons.”

Excited for her arrival, David and Faith are already thinking of activities that might interest Annika — kayaking on local rivers, attending football games or touring Washington, D.C. While David says keeping her safe will be their number one priority, ensuring that she has fun and feels welcomed will be their second.

“We want her to go home and tell all her friends and family that the U.S. is a great place,” he said.

According to Anne Hamilton, the regional manager for ISE, host families such as the Falkensteins are “making dreams happen for these students.”

“They really want to experience American culture …  my [past] students have just loved being part of America,” she remarked.

Hamilton says students are often excited about experiencing holidays such as Halloween, or typical American high school events such as football games and prom.

Hamilton also believes host families benefit from having an exchange student.

“It’s an enriching experience,” she said. “You learn about another country and its people, and you see your own culture through different eyes.”

Contact Katie King at (540) 574-6271 or

Interested In Hosting A Student?

— Potential host families must submit to a criminal background check and a home visit.

— Host families are expected to provide students with comfortable sleeping arrangements, meals, access to a public school and a welcoming atmosphere. All students speak English, and have medical insurance and spending money.

— Host families are still needed for the upcoming year.

For more information, contact ISE  Regional Manager Anne Hamilton at (855) 815-8741.