Student exchange programs immerse young people in a different culture, leading to personal growth, friendships and lifelong memories. This school year the Tulley family in Findlay is hosting an exchange student from Germany. Ron Tulley, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Findlay (UF), Christine, professor of English at UF and their daughters, Devon (7th grade) and Deana (2nd grade) are the surrogate family for Mathilda Koëppe, from Hamburg, Germany, who is attending Liberty-Benton High School.
Making the decision
Mathilda’s “biggest dream” was to live for one year in the U.S. She wanted to improve her English language skills and experience a different culture.
“I wondered if the American lifestyle is like it is portrayed in the movies, or if we just have prejudices,” she said.
For Ron, the decision to host an exchange student stemmed from his extensive travel. He has embarked on faculty exchange programs, research trips and study abroad experiences in the UK, Germany, Cambodia, Japan, The Czech Republic, Costa Rica and Vietnam. “I’ve always valued these experiences, and I thought my family and our exchange student could benefit mutually from the exchange,” he explained.
The process to participate in a student exchange program is intensive. The host family must complete an exhaustive online application, background check, home inspection and family interview. The student often feels a mix of excitement and anxiety before their arrival. “I had a lot of fears before I came to the U.S.,” said Mathilda. “I was afraid I would have problems with my host family or that I would miss my home country a lot or not connect to the school and people.”
Adjusting to change
Mathilda said some of her assumptions about U.S. culture have proven true. However, she has been surprised by some things, like the number of cars Americans own and the structure of the school system. “We have a lot more classes in Germany,” she explains.
Ron says Mathilda is fitting in perfectly with the family. “She’s kind, smart and fun,” he said. “The girls treat her like their sister and we consider her our daughter. I refer to her as my ‘Deutsche tochter’ (German daughter). She’s really helping me with my German. I can read and write German well, but my pronunciation…es ist nicht so gut!”
Planning to travel
Mathilda is looking forward to traveling the U.S. with the Tulleys. She has already been to Chicago twice, and she will get the chance to take two family trips to Florida as well as visit Detroit, Charlotte, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Growing and learning
In addition to forging a lifelong bond, Mathilda and the Tulleys expect to grow and learn together. “Mathilda has already dispelled us of many preconceived notions of German culture and people,” said Ron. “We’re also learning how to adjust to yet another daughter in our house—and a teenager at that!
Mathilda is hoping to uncover her strengths and weaknesses and to build her confidence. “I know this will have a huge influence on my life and I hope to have good memories for years to come,” she said.