“What I like about Darke County is I feel like this is true America,” she said. “They’re [foreign exchange students] from big cities. So, they can go to New York, Miami, L.A., they’re going to feel more at home there, because it’s more culturally diverse, but they wouldn’t stand out. When an exchange student comes to Darke County, they stand out.”
A former host family of Brown’s helped her connect Tony and Julie Matamoros, of Greenville, with foreign exchange student Lidia Muñoz, 17, of Madrid, Spain.
A first time host family, Julie said they felt compelled to open up their home.
“We’ve got two this year that are in high school,” she said. “We’d talked about it, and just felt a calling to be able to open our home and host.”
Tony added that his international roots, and love for children, had an impact on the decision.
“I was born in Bogota, Colombia,” he said. “I wasn’t born in the United States. I have a love for kids, I love opening up the home and having them experience something different than their culture.”
Muñoz, a student at Greenville Senior High School (GHS), has fully immersed herself in the Darke County experience. On her first day in Greenville, she attended the The Great Darke County Fair, and has also joined the GHS soccer, bowling and track teams.
“Sports are the way to socialize a little bit,” she said. “[It’s a way] to meet new people. The soccer team here is super good. All the girls, they were super excited to meet me. I was excited. They really like welcomed me. It was a really good experience.”
The Matamoros’ started hosting Muñoz in August 2021. Prior to hosting her, they connected Brown with their friends Matt and Austie Aukerman.
The Aukerman’s, of Greenville, had some interest in hosting a student, but decided to wait until the new year to be sure of the decision.
While in high school, Matt traveled to Russia as a foreign exchange student. That experience, and his family’s love for travel, greatly influenced their decision to open up their home to Bia Gonçalves, 17, of São Paulo, Brazil.
“I spent some time in Russia,” he said. “My wife and I like to travel a lot. We go on mission trips a lot, so we just thought it’d be a great opportunity to bring some culture into our home.”
Gonçalves, also a student at GHS, arrived in Darke County in January, just in time to witness her first midwestern winter.
“It was my first time in the snow,” Gonçalves said. “I think two days after I got here, they’re like, ‘Have you ever seen snow?’ And I said, ‘No.’ They were like, ‘We got you.’ And we went snow tubing.”
ISE, a non-profit foreign exchange student program in its 40th year, connects host families with students from all around the world ages 15 to 18.
“I see this program as a way to bring the world to our community,” Brown said. “Many people may not have the opportunity to travel to other countries. This program offers host families the chance to bring the world to them.”
Exchange students come with their own insurance and personal spending money. Host families are asked to provide students with three meals daily and a bedroom. They may share with a host sibling of similar age and the same sex.
While both the Matamoros’ and the Aukerman’s are first time host families, both families plan to host again, and recommend the program.
“We wanted our girls to know that America is not the central focus of the world,” Matt said. “Just having her here, she’s made some dishes for us, hearing about her experiences, it’s kind of opened our eyes to her perspective. I would say I highly recommend it. Any opportunity to get to know another culture just gives us a deeper appreciation for what we have.”
(L to R) Bia, Heather Brown and Lidia (Abigail Miller photo).
Lidia (far left) with the Matamoros at Christmas. (Courtesy photo).
Bia (front row, right) with the GHS boys tennis team. Bia plays competes against, and practices with the team. (Courtesy photo).
Bia (far, top left) and Lidia (middle right) with friends they’ve made while in Darke County (Courtesy photo).