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Host Family Story: Lasting Impacts of Exchange

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By Alexis Vosburg (YES 2012-20, Host Mother with IRIS in Hampton, Iowa)

When Carlos Lepiz from Costa Rica joined his American host family 50 years ago, I am sure he never imagined the magnitude of the impact he left. His experience here opened my husband, Zach, up to the possibility of hosting an exchange student as well. His father, Don, had fond memories of the year that Carlos spent with his family. Having visited Costa Rica with his family to meet his Uncle Carlos, my husband was more than willing when a friend from IRIS (Iowa Resource for International Service) approached him about hosting.

At that time, world affairs meant little to me and I could not understand my husband’s need to do something international. He finally convinced me to host and we have four kids around the world in addition to our two biological sons! Nasra (Tanzania), Bora (Turkey), Shahmir (Pakistan), and Salma (Morocco). I have loved hosting and the kids so much that I am also a local coordinator helping to place and support students once they are in the US.

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Our first host daughter, Nasra, from Tanzania with Isaac and William.

Hosting exchange students not only changed my family, it changed my view of the world. I am a global citizen. People in other countries aren't just news stories. They are real people, with real families, just like mine that just want the best life they can have for their families. Without speaking their language of words, my heart relates to an African, a muslim, a Turk, a gamer, a beat-boxer, an artist...all part of my family across the world!. I would not know this without IRIS and the YES program - I am forever grateful for these programs!

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Father-in-Law, Don, and his Costa Rican Brother Carlos on a recent vacation.

If you are a potential host family that is hesitant about this experience, I would say, there is never going to be a “right time.” The excuses we have for not doing this are not worth missing this opportunity to change your world and perspective of the world. Our family has learned so much and my kids (yes, all six of them!) have a global perspective in all they do. They have empathy for others and a drive to do something about the injustices in the world rather than watching them happen. These young people will enrich your lives far more than you will probably enrich theirs!!

We had the great opportunity to visit Carlos and his family in Costa Rica this past December. I couldn't help but think about how my kids and grandkids would be doing this too someday - visiting their family around the world, sharing memories, no longer separated by borders.


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