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What we gain from our 'exchange' daughter
"A foreign exchange student brings the joy of watching her discover a world different from the one she has always known. It's a delight to think that someday she will return to Denmark and tell her friends, family and perhaps her own children stories of her year in America."
-- LeAnn Lyon

by LeAnn Lyon


When people ask me how many kids I have, I pause for a moment to think before answering, "This year my husband and I have three daughters, while most years we only have two." The 12- and 14-year-old girls we have raised from birth; the 16-year-old "exchange" daughter is a girl from Denmark who is staying with us this year.

Hosting a foreign exchange student has been a dream of mine since high school 30 years ago. At St. Louis Park High School, there were several exchange students, including one from Sweden I became friends with. Today we are Facebook friends.

Dreaming of doing something and the reality of doing it can sometimes be quite different, but when our daughter's future high school sent out a request for Nacel Open Door host families I knew the time had come to do this.

Our children speak Swedish, thanks to the Concordia Language Villages program, and they wanted to host a "sister" from a Scandinavian country. We quickly filled in the application and the whole process took very little time.

Our family "matched" with our student in the spring, but she didn't arrive at our home until the fall. Waiting to meet her was the hardest part! Thanks to email and Facebook, however, we established rapport with the student as well as her family.

She has been with us for several months already, and we constantly find new things to share. I have enjoyed teaching her how to make my Dad's famous roast beef recipe, and she has shared Danish traditions with us, too.

Why in the world would we do this?

We are not paid. Another "daughter" requires more time, more running around, more food and other expenses.

But a foreign exchange student brings the joy of watching her discover a world different from the one she has always known. It's a delight to think that someday she will return to Denmark and tell her friends, family and perhaps her own children stories of her year in America.

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Having her live with us gives us something to strive for as well - giving her and her family a positive impression of what it is to be Americans.

LeAnn Lyon lives with her family in St. Paul.

FFI: Nacel Open Door www.nacelopendoor.org

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