Creating Lifelong Connections With International Cultural Exchange Services

“This is her shirt, her necklaces. It’s like literally like she’s my sister.”

“I just don’t want it to come to an end.”

With over four thousand miles between them….
Ryleigh and Andrea met each other in quite the unique way.
Ryleigh lives in Benzie and Andrea is from Spain.

“I saw that other people at my school have a good relationship with their exchange students, so I was like I really, I really want that,” says Ryleigh Frisbie.

“I work for International Cultural Exchange Services,” says Debbie Kwaiser.

Debbie Kwaiser is a big part of a foreign exchange student program in northern Michigan.

She explains, “It’s an exchange company that brings high school students over to the United States. We’re looking for host families, we have over 700 kids right now, looking throughout the United States. We look at all the different activities that the family does and try to match them up pretty well.”

She knows how it’ll affect someone’s life–
Because it’s affected her own.

“I was an exchange student in Denmark for 10 weeks. We were soul sisters at 16 and now we’re souls grandmothers. And it’s just been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” says Kwaiser.

The program is a 10 month commitment that comes with a lifelong connection.

“The kids come in late August, they stay until school ends in June.”

Ryleigh says, “They’re not just like a person living in your house, they are a part of your family…She’s my best friend.”
Fam
For Ryleigh and her family, it feels like they’ve opened their door to someone who now, really feels like part of their family.

Deb Frisbie, Ryleigh’s mom, expresses, “It’s so exciting for us to show her new things, or to teach her what we do….When I looked at the application and the way that her mother described her, was that she brings the family a lot of joy and that’s the way I would explain my daughter to anybody. And I just knew that was going to be a good match.”

With a big smile, Ryleigh says, “All my friends are her friends and her friends are mine. I’ve never had a sister, and I like it! I like having a sister.”

And for Andrea, it’s no different.

Andrea Gimeno Montero shares, “We are always like joking, laughing. We do everything together. It’s like going upstairs, in which room are we staying today? Yours, mine…Do our makeup together, in the mirror together. My relationship with my house family is just amazing with all of them.”

This one of a kind experience teaches you a lot about yourself and the person you invite into your home —
But it’s also a fun way to really learn about another person’s culture and traditions. 
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For Andrea, “The schedules, they’re so different. In Spain, we eat at three in the afternoon and get dinner from nine to 11. And I’m having lunch at like 12, and I was like how am I gonna have lunch at 12?! I get lunch in Spain at like three or two. But now I’m hungry at 12.”

No matter how unusual they are…

“We ate 12 grapes on the new years. Like they eat 12 grapes on the countdown. So we went to the Cherry Drop and we all brought grapes and we’re all shoving them in our mouth,” says Ryleigh, laughing while she explains.

And even though the end of the school year is near…
It’s really only just the beginning of a special friendship.

Deb Frisbie says, “This relationship’s not gonna end when she goes home. And she’s already asked her parents for an extension. She was supposed to go home in June and her visas not up until July 15, so she’s staying until July 14th.”

“I’m not gonna lie, sometimes you miss home, but you have to do it, like, you’re gonna love it. I don’t wanna go back home…would you come back here? Yeah for sure,” says Andrea.

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