Guest Blog: Life-Changing Experience of Hosting an Exchange Student

RUgilbert_TOPGuest Blog: Life-Changing DDAnew01Experience of Hosting an Exchange Student

(Paul Johnson, March 1, 2016)

Ferndale, MI – Major life changes happen in a lot of different ways, buying your first house, marriage, having kids, mine happened when I decided to host a high school exchange student from Spain for a year. Single gay men don’t get many opportunities to parent, but bring a 16 year old boy into your home for a year and you learn fast!

Some background, I found AFS (the hosting organization) 5 years ago when I read a story in a gay publication from Washington DC about a same-sex couple that hosted an exchange student. I was intrigued and being the type of person that loves to explore other cultures I got involved as a volunteer. Fast forward 5 years, I have a house, and extra bedroom, I know that AFS provides amazing support throughout the year, and I’m pretty sure I’m ready for a kid btl wedding(Ha, who is every ready for a kid?). I talked to our local hosting coordinator, she came and did my in-home interview and we started looking at profiles of kids that were coming. I’ve always wanted to go to Spain, so I specifically asked for a Spanish student. I read several profiles and found one that I thought would fit with my personality. He’s artistic, loves architecture, wanted to experience the cultural aspects of where ever he was placed so I selected him. Then it was on to the application, the references, and the State Department background checks.  I’m sure any parent out there would want to make sure that the family they are sending their child to for the year is going to pass muster and will provide a safe home.

Once I was approved (almost a year ago now) I got to start communicating with Martin from Madrid.   We would chat on WhatsApp, send emails back and forth, I’d send him pictures of Ferndale, and he’d send me pictures of what he was doing in Madrid. It was fun, but reality set in on August 12th, when after a long flight and a local orientation, we met face-to-face and it was time to go home.   I now had a child, a 16 year old child at that, who was thousands of miles from home and was expecting me to take care of him for the next 10 months. Dear God, what had I gotten myself into?

The first few weeks we treated each other as guests. I showed him around Detroit, he tip-toed around my house. He was shy at first, but eager (as most exchange students are,) to learn about the USA, Ferndale, Detroit, and my friends and family.

And I was thrown into the deep end with getting him enrolled in schools, helping him select classes, hoping he would make friends, teaching him about the neighborhood, getting the GT ad 04remaining vaccinations before school started, and all the things that parents have to do. Thankfully, there is plenty of local support from AFS to walk you through this. I’ve been that support, but when you’re on the other side you totally realize how important it is!

Now, we are half way through Martin’s year. I’ve had to learn how to parent. Talk to him about his grades, butt heads with a teenager that is learning about commitments and responsibility, work our way through household chores, why he has a curfew and see him through being homesick. Have these 5 months been perfect? No. But will I miss the dickens out of him when he leaves in June, oh boy will I. Have there been days when I just wanted to send this Spanish stranger in my house someplace else? Yes. But we worked through it all and this experience has been just amazing. Not only have I learned about this wonderful boy that has come into my life, I have learned about me and most importantly, I have learned that we have so much more in common with the other people on this planet that we have differences.

AFS is back in hosting gear now, looking for other families that want to host a student for next royal_servicesschool year. As you may have guessed, AFS values diversity and inclusion. There is no such thing as a “typical” host family. Single, married with young kids or no kids, empty-nesters, same sex couples, ALL are welcome and all can provide an amazing experience for these student. Some of us have small house, some big, others live in condos or apartments, some are urban others are rural. The point is, don’t think about why you can’t host, thing of why you should. And remember not everything will be perfect through-out your hosting year, but AFS is there to support you and trust me when I say, you will walk away not only a changed person but a better person for having hosted.

If you’d like more information check out or if you have any questions you’re welcome to mail me at


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