The Ford family

For Janice Ford from Michigan, it’s the small things about hosting — trips to the ice cream parlor, sharing recipes, discussing books — that make her family connect with other cultures.

“Hosting is an opportunity to show exchange students how diverse our culture really is.”

Why did you decide to become a host family with EF?

My father was in the military and my family lived overseas before I was born, so growing up I loved to make friends from all over the world. Being a host family is my way of helping celebrate the brave students who want to explore a new culture and discover the world. We love to host students that are interested in enjoying what Michigan has to offer — the big cities and small towns; the local parks where you can go fishing, boating and hiking, and the urban areas where you can go to the theatre or museum and see concerts and sports games. I see hosting as an opportunity to show these students how diverse our culture is. To help them realize that we are all more alike than we are different, and to share what makes me proud to be an American while giving my family a chance to learn about other parts of the world.

Describe your relationship with Hilly. What kind of things did you two do together?

Hilly got off the plane with a smile. She really had that "I am going to try" spirit that was a pleasure to see. We had many common interests, but one that sticks out for me is baking and cooking. I loved watching her translate her metric recipes. Her parents sent me a Swedish cookbook and we went to different stores to get the ingredients for muesli — we even special ordered rye flakes! Hilly was really excited about Thanksgiving as well. We usually either skip the cranberry sauce or eat it out of the can, but not with Hilly. She insisted that we make it by hand, and it was so much better. It sounds silly, but she truly changed me. Now, I am making more of my meals from scratch.

“I received a letter from one of her teachers personally thanking me for hosting her.”

What do you miss most about Hilly?

I miss her smile, her humor, and her open-minded attitude. More specifically, I miss our discussions on books, movies and politics. Hilly loves books — she came here reading Anna Karenina. We would go to thrift stores to discover book gems and catch arthouse movies and Oscar-contenders at the local theater. Hilly also had a designer’s eye which I miss a lot. When she set the table it looked like Martha Stewart came to our house. She’d ask me where the cloth napkins and placemats are, and then take out vases and arrange flowers in them. She brought so much color to our life, but she was also a great student and a great representative of Sweden. I received a letter from one of her teachers personally thanking me for hosting her. The teacher said that having Hilly in her class was helpful for the other students and provided a unique, global perspective.

What does hosting an exchange student mean to you?

For me, it means that the world is indeed a small place and that we are all connected. It may seem insignificant, but I remember hearing Hilly once say to someone “we do this as a family,” and realizing that she actually feels like a part of our home. I saw her as my own daughter, and still do, and it warmed my heart to learn that she felt the same way. Hosting is about sharing the little things — attending parent’s night or talking about what is going on in her life on the way home from school — but also about making a connection that lasts beyond the finite time of the actual exchange. It’s about being a part of the growth of a teenager and knowing that you are making a positive impact on somebody’s life.

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© EF Education First 2011-2022. EF High School Exchange Year is operated by EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study, a non-profit corporation designated by the U.S. Department of State to operate a J-1 student exchange program. Note: Featured photo/videos do not include prospective students, and are representative of program participants.