Give Me That Mountain!
Hosting Foreign Exchange Students: One Family's Experience
By Brad Ransom
Over a dozen-year span, my wife and I (along with our three school-aged sons) hosted four foreign exchange students from various countries. Three of these young men lived with our family for ten months each. One was a temporary placement who lived with us after his first placement didn’t work out. He stayed with us for a few months before being placed in a permanent home.
Our exchange journey began in 1995 when we received a call from our local high school librarian who also served as a placement coordinator for a foreign exchange student organization. Six boys had been brought to our small town (Sulphur, Oklahoma) and promised homes for the entire school year. After these young men arrived, six of the original promises for placement didn’t work out.
She told us that if homes weren’t found for the six boys within a few days, they would have to return to their home countries in disappointment. A pastor at the time, I put out a plea to our congregation to become host families. After talking things over with my wife, we decided to host one of the students, who came from Sweden.
Eventually, all six students ended up with families from our church who brought their new “sons” to Sunday School, church, and youth group activities. This created a unique and exciting dynamic in our teen ministry. Every family (with one exception) had a positive experience hosting, and hosting exchange students soon became a tool used by the church to minister to international students who came to America to study, improve English skills, or simply experience a new culture.
Before our family agreed to host, we made it clear I was a pastor, and we were deeply involved in a local, evangelical, Christian church. Our student, his family (and all the other students hosted by our church families) agreed they would attend church and count it as part of their cultural experience. Although we never forced them to convert or adopt our “religion,” most students gladly and regularly attended church and youth group activities. Many of the families that hosted students that first year remained in contact long after the students returned to their home countries. This was true for us, and it led us to host again and again.
Several years later, the same representative reached out to us again and asked if we would be interested in hosting another student. After considering it as a family and looking over several poorly copied biography sheets (the students looked like black squares with no features) we decided on a German student named Anthony (pictured below with members of the Ransom family).
Anthony was born in Germany, but his family was from Sri Lanka. When Anthony’s mother was pregnant with him, their family fled their country due to civil unrest and moved to Germany, where they knew no one and did not speak the language. Anthony was raised in German schools and spoke both German and Tamil (Sri Lanka’s language) fluently. While in school in Germany he also
learned English and French. He had a loving, committed family that wanted him to experience American life with a good family.
Honestly, we could not have chosen anyone who fit our family any better. Anthony became like a fourth son. After finishing his senior year in high school with us, he returned to Germany for the summer but then returned to Oklahoma to attend his first year of college at Murray State College in Tishomingo, only 35 miles from our home. After experiencing dorm life for a couple of weeks (with a not-so-great roommate), Anthony asked if he could live with us and commute to school, so he lived with us for a second school year.
We were delighted to have Anthony back in the family. After his first year of college, he returned to Germany before moving to London, England, to attend university, and he remains in London today. Eventually, he earned several degrees including a bachelor’s in business studies from City University of London, an MBA from University of Warwick, and a master’s degree in real estate finance from Cambridge.
Over the subsequent three decades, we have enjoyed the privilege of being together for several occasions including Thanksgiving and other holidays. My wife and I traveled to London for Anthony’s wedding. Our relationship has continued throughout these years, and the impact on each other’s lives has been profound. I believe our church and family had a positive and lasting influence on Anthony’s life—spiritual and otherwise. We remain close to this day.
Over the years we also hosted students from South Korea and Norway. Again, these students proved a blessing to our family and had a mutual impact on our personal and spiritual lives. Without exception, each of these students left our homes different than when they came.
Student exchange programs are still a great way families can reach the world at home. Hosting a foreign exchange student can impact a life for eternity. Most hosting agencies require students to participate in family activities, even going to church. While they do not promote “pushing religion” on a student, you can be sure God’s Word never returns void.
If you are interested in hosting a foreign exchange student, contact your local high school to see if they participate in exchange programs and volunteer your family to host. You will be blessed! Our family built lifelong relationships, and more than two decades later, we still remain in touch with these young men we now consider part of our family, especially Anthony.
About the Author: Dr. Brad Ransom is director of church planting and chief training officer for North American Ministries. Contact Brad: email@example.com.