Tammy Zilinski coordinated a French group in East Dundee, Illinois this past July, that she believes created friendships that will last a lifetime.

Tammy first heard about Greenheart Exchange through Julie Fowler, her local coordinator, who asked her to host in the summer 2017. Tammy had both a French and Spanish student. She subsequently hosted a Chinese and Brazilian student for the school year. She had such a great time with her cultural exchange experiences that she wanted to help other families enjoy the same and decided to become a local coordinator. When she talks about it to potential host families, she always says that hosting a foreign exchange student opens your eyes to the realities that people are people, no matter their skin color, nationality, or language. It often leads to relationships for life; you have “family” on the other side of the world!

This year, the program was enjoyable right from the beginning. When the French students arrived, they seemed like they were friends already, but they had actually met for the first time at the airport! They excitedly greeted their host parents with enthusiasm! At first, they seemed hesitant to speak English, but after a few days, they became more confident in their English-speaking skills.

Tammy’s highlight of the experience was the volunteer project, at a Section 8 housing center, where the participants had the mission to play with children and serve them lunch. When they first arrived, they didn’t really know what to do to help. They weren’t needed for serving yet so Tammy asked them to play with the kids. They all found creative and fun activities; they made bubbles and drew with chalk on the sidewalk. The girls drew out a hopscotch game and they all tried to get the kids to play until lunch time. While they were serving, they engaged the children in conversation and by the time the lunch was over, the French students were taking the children by the hand and walking around with them. “I loved seeing them realize how much fun it can be to serve and just be a friend!” Tammy said.

At the student orientation, two of the host families asked if they could all get together to watch the World Cup semi-finals. One of the families knew the manager of Buffalo Wild Wings and got “reservations” for all of them to go. They all met there and when France won, they all wanted to watch the final game on Sunday. One of the host families was thrilled to open their home and they met there and watched France win the World Cup!

Tammy is working on making a wall in her home that will feature all the students she has had, the French group, as well as any other groups that she’ll have in the future! You can see in the gallery just some of the many photos she took with this group.

Learn more about having a similar experience as a host or local coordinator here