By Allison Graham, Outreach and Training Manager

“Say cheese!” Those familiar words had new meaning this year for Nicki and Steve when they were taking their family portraits. This year they were smiling next to a new family member: Carlota, their Spanish exchange student.

 Carlota, affectionately called Charlie, has become a regular part of the family ever since she arrived in Virginia Beach, VA in August 2012. Nicki, the host mother, says that the whole family has enjoyed “playing board games and just being a ‘regular’ family” and watching Charlie enjoy being an American teenaged girl.  Charlie has fully immersed herself into school life and is active in the High School Cheer Squad, as well as, varsity volleyball and soccer.

 Nicki says that the family decided to host with CCI Greenheart “because it’s a great opportunity for my own children to see how children from other cultures live, and how they view us Americans.”  They also wanted to offer the opportunity for an exchange student to come to the US. They know that there are so many exchange students wanting to have an American experience, but “not enough families know about the great hosting opportunities”, says Nicki.

Through their hosting journey, Nicki and Steve have learned that different cultures have a lot more similarities than they ever imagined.  Yet, there are still plenty of differences to learn about. Charlie was most surprised by “the way everyone takes care of themselves in our family.  We are each responsible for our own laundry etc.,” says Nicki. It was a significant difference from what Charlie knew in family life.  Together, the family and Charlie have shared similarities, learned about differences, and have created a cohesive unit.

A picture speaks a thousand words, but for Nicki, Steve, and Charlie, their new family portraits speak of a thousand unforgettable memories and life-lessons that they will cherish forever.