Last week I wrote about German exchange student Alice Hodapp, who is spending her junior year at Mount Pleasant High School.
Her hosts are the Vollmans of Mount Pleasant, who have become very active in the Youth For Understanding student-exchange program.
Years ago, Sandy Vollman said, a coworker told her about Youth For Understanding. She and her husband, Craig, had small children, so Sandy didn't think they would be good candidates to host a teenage student.
But Craig said, "Why not?"
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It worked beautifully, and since then the family has hosted young people from Germany, Mexico and Japan. Alice is their ninth exchange student.
This year the Vollmans are on the other end of Youth For Understanding. Their son Evan is an exchange student in Argentina.
Evan is living with his host family in Concepcion, a small town in northern Argentina. He left in August and will return in June, but because Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, Evan is enjoying summer vacation from school now. He's been spending some time in the country's mountains with his host family and will take a three-week trip through Argentina with other Youth For Understanding students.
Sandy said Evan loves the pace of life in Argentina. When school is in session, he is there until about 1:30 p.m.; then everyone goes home for the big family meal. Afterward everyone takes a siesta, and the rest of the day is free for sports, hanging out with friends or tea time at a café.
Evenings start later there. Sandy said Evan "keeps hours all night." She imagines coming home will mean quite an adjustment for him.
Evan's biggest challenge has been language. Though he had two years of high-school Spanish, he understood very little for the first few weeks. But since he heard no English, his Spanish improved quickly.
Evan also enjoys how easy it is to get places. He can walk almost everywhere - school, church, to meet friends - and if it's too far to walk, it's easy to bike or get a bus. He also likes the food in Argentina. He said it's been easy to make friends, and he likes his school.
Evan would be graduating from high school this year, but because of the exchange, he'll have to make up his senior year next year.
To him, participating in the exchange is worth it. It's given him a different perspective, enriched his understanding of the world and its people and fed his sense of adventure.
Sandy Vollman appreciates the value of the exchanges. Her family has kept in touch with the students they have hosted and have visited some in Germany. Exchange programs bring international relations to a personal level, helping young people learn what makes us special and what makes us alike.
Sandy Vollman said there are many ways to get involved with the program. It relies heavily on volunteers, and right now it is are recruiting host families, students and other volunteers. Learn more at www.yfu-usa.org. Alice Hodapp, Evan Vollman, their families and their friends are making life-changing memories this year; you can get involved and do the same.