When asked to describe being a host mother, Jen Kramer of Kendallville, Indiana says, “It’s just like having another son.”
Though hosting an exchange student was her high-school aged son’s idea, Kramer and her YES student, Zaki, formed an instant bond.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but when I was in high school my family hosted an exchange student from Bolivia and that was a great time,” Kramer said. “So I was willing to try it with my own family.”
“We took him in as one of our own, he called me ‘Mom,’ and now when we talk on the phone every Sunday he calls me ‘Mom 2,’” she said. “I would have kept him if they let me,” she added with a laugh.
She said she knew nothing about Lebanon, Zaki’s home country, before he arrived, but during his ten months in the States they worked together to make a list of ten important facts about his country. He used their list when he spoke about his life in Lebanon in classrooms and at events.
Despite their cultural differences, Zaki and Kramer’s youngest son were like “peas in a pod.” Though her older son had some reservations about hosting an exchange student, he too quickly became friends with Zaki. And on a family vacation, many thought the boys were all brothers.
“Teenagers are teenagers, and I think young people are more open to different cultures,” Kramer said. “It was a great experience for my son and I know he misses Zaki.”
The family went everywhere together: they visited Florida and Cincinnati, went to a symphony concert and took Zaki to his first NBA game.
Kramer said Zaki was a delight to host in part because he gets along with everyone, from family members to school friends to strangers.
“What surprised me most was how quickly we grew to love him,” she said. “That was the most rewarding part, just loving each other. And now we have a tie on the other side of the world, which is just great.”
“Having him here proved that it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how you’re used to doing things – family is family.”