QUINCY -- Leah Heming and her husband, Craig, unwittingly grew their family's headcount by one several years ago when they hosted a 17-year-old Swiss boy as an exchange student. The boy, Noé, came for the school year from his native country to study at Payson-Seymour High School in Payson, Ill., through the program Youth For Understanding.
"We're his American Mom and Dad, and he's our foreign son," program area representative Leah Heming said.
Since the Hemings initially hosted Noé, he has returned multiple times to visit with his American family, and his Swiss family once stayed with the Hemings. Next year, the Hemings plan to travel to Switzerland to ski, and will stay with Noé's family.
"We have a close relationship with him and his family," Heming said. "It's just such a cool bond to have."
Youth For Understanding is a global nonprofit educational organization that allows high school-aged students the opportunity to work or study for a year, semester or summer in a foreign country. Although the Quincy area hosts a few international students each year, the program and the benefits it provides to both students and host families aren't well known, Hemming said.
Gaining new family members
This school year, there are two exchange students attending high school in Payson. Adrian and Jacob, both considered juniors, are from Germany and Denmark, respectively. They are living with Kathy Flesner.
Flesner and her family have been a host family for the program for the last six years.
"You're just a family," Flesner said. "They call each other brother and sister and us mom and dad."
"I always really wanted siblings, and now I have seven," Adrian said.
Flesner's children attend the same Payson school as many of the exchange students, and it's been a positive experience for both that they can be with each other during the school day.
"It's (school) really different from back home," Jacob said. "You're in classes with friends all day. The Flesners are very friendly and do a lot. I love them all."
Flesner, Adrian and Jacob agree that their situation has been beneficial in multiple ways.
"It's just a good experience to make new friends and family," Flesner said.
Three need families
In January, three boys, all 15, will be coming to the area to participate in the program during the spring semester. All three will need a host family to take them in.
"All you do is feed them and love them," Heming said. "Anything beyond food, their parents take care of. It's a really cool opportunity for the kids. The program helps them learn our culture, and hosting them helps us learn their culture. We haven't had a single negative experience."
More information about the program is at yfu.org. For more information about hosting an exchange student may call Heming at 217-440-3217.