CEDAR RAPIDS —Welcome signs dotted the reception area Saturday afternoon at The Eastern Iowa Airport as families awaited the arrival of nine high school foreign exchange students.
The students are just a few of the 40 youths EF High School Exchange Year, the largest non-profit exchange program in the United States, is bringing to Eastern Iowa to study during the upcoming school year.
Amber Moeller, a first-time host mother from Tipton, nervously awaited her exchange student’s arrival Saturday.
“I’m very excited and a little nervous because I’m hoping he likes us,” she said. “We want to make him feel at home.”
Moeller said her son had pushed for becoming a host family, but she initially was hesitant.
“His statement was that he wanted to learn about the American culture through a family and then keep that family,” she said. “That’s what really appealed to me. It melted my heart.”
Another host mother, Renee Mueller, was welcoming for her fifth exchange student in the past seven years.
“You get to meet people from different countries and you have friends all over the world,” she said. “They become part of our family, it’s like having another child.”
When the students walked down to the waiting area, parents, children and friends greeted their new family members, many with tear-filled eyes.
“I get goosebumps,” said Becky Corbett, the regional coordinator for Iowa’s EF High School Exchange Year, tearing up as she watched the exchange students walk down the airport hallway. “I’m sorry, I just get so excited for the students.”
Corbett said she’s worked for the exchange program for over 30 years, and the experiences keep her coming back.
“There is one really terrible thing about our program,” she said. “They have to go home.”
Another family from Tipton welcomed their exchange student, Nicoline Fredensborg from Denmark, with a bag of Skittles and a corncob stuffed animal.
Fredensborg said she had eaten Skittles only once before, when her host brother sent her a pack in Denmark.
As for what it feels like to be in the United States, she said, “ I can’t explain it. It’s so amazing. I’m so happy to be here.”
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