By Jillian Sims, Academic Year Program Assistant

Faced with an empty home after her husband’s passing, Rita wanted to fill it again with love and be a useful member of her community. Hosting an exchange student seemed to be a natural solution. So when she was asked by CCI Greenheart, Rita quickly accepted the opportunity and opened up her home and her heart to students and cultures she had never imagined would have become so familiar. “They knew I was a foster parent so they suggested I would be good to host an exchange student.  It didn’t take much convincing.” As so often happens for host families, this was only the beginning.

Rita first hosted two students from South Korea, Semi and Bo-Mi, but it was Taiwan that would ultimately become a favorite for Rita. In 2009, she hosted her first Taiwanese student and has had a student from that country every year since then. “That was the beginning of my love for Taiwan,” she says.

This year, her student Wendy has become a close member, not only of Rita’s family, but of the surrounding community as well. Wendy is a natural fit in the family, whether playing big sister to Rita’s foster children or having some host mother and daughter time, the family is experiencing the world through each other’s eyes. Christmas was a great example of this. “She is very appreciative of all our activities. Christmas was different for her as they don’t celebrate this holiday in her country.  She enjoyed the Christmas lights, taking a walk around the park to see them, the Christmas dinner with family and get-togethers with friends she made through the church.  She was a little sad because she missed her family most at a time when families in America get together.”

But the sadness of being away from her natural family seems to be minimal in a American host family that is so close and bonded, not to mention Wendy’s school friends and the Rita’s church community, who have taken to her in as one of their own. ” The people of my church have embraced all my girls.  Each new one that comes, they are sad to see them go.  They say ‘Wendy is a keeper’.”

It seems safe to say for this host family that the experience will hopefully be repeating itself repeatedly in years to come, and Rita couldn’t be happier about her decision to embrace cultural exchange through hosting, but don’t take our word for it. Take Rita’s!

“I would encourage anyone even thinking about hosting, to go ahead, plunge in.  It is a joy to see even the simpler things in life through the eyes of another and enjoy them all over again.  Thanks Taiwan, for sharing your best with me.  And, thanks, parents for allowing them to come.”