By Jillian Sims, Academic Year Program Assistant

Shortly after her husband was deployed, Katie signed up to host for the first time. It was partially the result of a a temporary but empty space left in her heart and home and partially due to the fact that she had grown up with an interest in international travel and had not had yet had the experience herself. So when the opportunity to host was presented to her, she knew it was the right decision. But she didn’t stop there:  through a chain of circumstances and events, Katie would end up hosting not only the student she originally chose (Linh from Vietnam, who Katie would help get here by writing to her congressman when there was a bump in the road for to receive her visa), but she also decided to double host  Victoria from Brazil. But was she done yet? Of course not! Because when Katie met her neighbors Dana and Corey as they were getting their keys to live in the same complex as Katie and her family, she quickly got to know her new neighbors and convinced them to host as well. But wait! There’s more!

Katie was so infectious and excited about it all that it was no big surprise when Corey, Dana’s husband, joked “We should both have two students!” That was all it took and before anyone knew it Tommy from Taiwan and Tom From Germany arrived. “It has been one huge family since then,” says Dana.

Katie’s spirit is infectious and together, both families are reaping the rewards of this awesome and unique experience of being both neighbors who are hosting together, and hosting two exchange students each. The benefits seem to far outweigh any difficulties.  Next door neighbor, Dana, says “We feel like we not only have our family at home, but an extended family right next door. We help each other with rides to school, rides home from soccer practice…. We love the fact that they have friends on the other side of the wall!”

Katie adds “This is our first time hosting and honestly, I can’t imagine not hosting together. You can literally touch our front door and their front door at the same time… we often joke abut asking them to install a door between our walls. We have family dinners together and always plan our outings as a large family. I get to be ‘Mama Bear’ to my girls and ‘Aunt Katie’ to the boys. Who wouldn’t want this beautiful experience?!”

But it’s not just the families who are benefiting from this experience. Dana observes about her boys, “I think having two students together allows them to have a built in friend. They are really like brothers. They can share this experience with another person. They get to share their cultures with more people. We love it.” About her girls, Katie shares “Victoria and Linh! There can’t be one without the other. It just wouldn’t have been the same experience without two. They have a constant friend and take care of each other. One day they were tossed into the same boat together. They have relied on each other for help, strength and love.” She continues, speaking of the new sounds in her home “I never knew the sound of giggling from a room lat at night could sound like music floating on the air… I had always wanted a daughter and now i have been blessed with two.”

Both Katie and Corey and Dana love the experience of having two students each. Katie exclaims,”I honestly don’t know how anyone does just one. Its just not complete without the set.” But this isn’t to say double hosting is not without its own set of challenges. Katie is quick to resolve them though and shares her experience dealing with issues.

“Sometimes its hard juggling all the different activities, but if you are already a parent that is jut a part of the job description.” Speaking about the difficulty of determining what her new daughters are needing from her, Katie says “When you see one struggling you try to take a little extra time to help that child along.” But here again is when fellow hosting neighbors come into play. “I am grateful Corey and Dana are right next door. They are happy to take the girls anytime I need. And I love stealing the boys anytime they let me as well.”

Katie's two exchange students and son play together at a local park

Katie’s two exchange students and son play together at a local park

When asked about what advice our new host parents would give to others considering taking on the experience of hosting, Dana simply says “You cannot imagine the positive impact an exchange student can make on your life… or your heart!” Speaking about the many activities she has with her boys, whether out and about town or staying at home, she states “These memories are so precious! We are so blessed to be involved with this adventure!”

Katie shares her advice, saying “Your are in for some ups and downs, but this is life! Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. This doesn’t stop when we become adults. So embrace the experience. Be open and don’t thing anything is common knowledge!” She continues, “I have lived in Colorado for three years and have never done so many of the wonderful things my state has to offer. And while I am my students mom, I also try to put myself in their shoes. This is a chance for them to learn and grow, make tough choices and understand the rewards and consequences that come with them. I feel so blessed to be a small step in their journey.” Its certain that Katie will never forget her students, but she hopes that goes the same for them.

“I hope when they become adults, they enjoy telling their children about the amazing year they spent in America with their Mama and Papa Bear.”

Both families were full of so many wonderful things to share; stories of new experiences, cultural exchange and even misunderstandings, new experiences and amazing memories in the making. And there are so many more to come! Katie gushes “We cant wait for the first snow fall, the girl’s first Turkey, and Christmas as a family!”

Always full of love and excitement, Katie says this of the experience so far.
“We aren’t neighbors, we are family! There isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for each other. And a big part of that is through these kids. It take a village people! There isn’t any place I’d rather be than with our family at the Ridge.”

We at CCI Greenheart wouldn’t want it any other way.