By Kathy Wichmann, virtually hosting Ilan Buce (YES 2020-2021, Mozambique) and Eren Cancelik (YES 2020-2021, Turkey) with AFS-USA in Manhattan, KS
When I heard that virtual host families were needed for YES and FLEX students unable to come to the U.S. this year, I was a little hesitant, not knowing what to expect. Being veteran host parents to nine other exchange students over the years, we were matched with two YES students — boys from Mozambique and Turkey.
We started meeting on Zoom twice monthly, on Sundays. At first, it was awkward getting to know each other, as it is with hosting in-person. At times, our 4 adult kids, ranging in age from 19 to 26 and spread out in Oregon, Minnesota, and Kansas City, joined the Zoom calls so the exchange students had a taste of the host family experience. They obviously enjoyed talking to individuals closer to their age!
We made some typical American foods such as brownies and guacamole while Zooming with the boys before the Super Bowl game. In March, they watched my sister’s beachside wedding in Hawaii with us and the rest of my family. We learned about their families, schools, hometowns, and countries through presentations that they created. We watched a video that Eren from Turkey made of him baking American chocolate chip cookies, since it was during Ramadan and he couldn’t cook during our regular Zoom time. An early call with Ilan was cut short due to such heavy rain in Mozambique that he literally couldn’t hear us—and we could hear the downpour all the way in Kansas!
A highlight for the boys was when we sent each of them care packages, with a yellow Manhattan High School AFS Club t-shirt and various small gifts from Kansas. They really enjoyed the chocolate-covered sunflower seeds! We were so happy when Ilan finally received his package in mid-May, a three-month journey from Manhattan, KS to Maputo, Mozambique!
When it came time to have our last session in May, it was remarkable how close we felt to each of them, similar to hosting in-person. When the boys said that they did not want to end the virtual meetings, we decided to continue meeting on a monthly basis. We hope to meet in person someday, either here or in their home country. Virtual hosting was an amazing experience that created true bonds of friendship.