by Dennis Dalman
One day last year, senior Meghan Hicks was walking past a classroom at Holdingford High School when she heard someone in the room say, “Maybe Meghan would do it.”
A bit startled, Meghan poked her head in the doorway and said, “I would do what?”
As she soon learned, there was a foreign exchange student named Yanisa from Thailand who needed a new host family. The one she’d been staying with since the start of the school year just happened to be “not the best fit.”
Meghan went home and told her parents about the situation. After some pondering, they all decided, “Why not?” It would, they thought, be a good learning experience and some fun.
The parents, Patrick and Wendy, did all the paperwork and two weeks later Yanisa, who spoke English, was welcomed into the Hicks’ home in St. Stephen. Besides the parents and Meghan, the household also includes son Joe, 20. This coming school year, Meghan will major in music therapy at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. Joe works as a stock manager for Five Star Transport in St. Joseph. Patrick and Wendy own and operate C & H Truck Repair in Waite Park.
“It (having Yanisa as a guest) was a wonderful experience,” Wendy said. “She was the sweetest gal. A junior. Yanisa is back in Thailand now, but we still keep in touch with her, almost daily. She, my daughter, son Joe and the whole family got along so well.”
It was such a good experience, in fact, the Hicks decided to agree to host again this coming school year – not one student but two. Like Yanisa, they are members of the Youth for Understanding student-exchange program. Both will arrive at the Hicks’ home by the end of August. Misuzu, a girl from Japan will be a junior at Holdingford High School; and Panniga, another girl from Thailand, will be a sophomore, also at Holdingford.
“So far, we have only ‘met’ the girls through emails,” Wendy said. “We are so looking forward to meeting them in person.”
The Hicks have been making plans to introduce the girls to the Minnesota experience through various activities: a fishing trip to Upsala, a visit to Banning State Park near Hinckley, a Vikings game and in winter lots of snow-tubing if the girls are willing.
The Hicks live on a hobby farm they bought eight years ago – one cow, four goats, 25 chickens.
“Misuzu the Japanese student told us via email that she is nervous about the Minnesota mosquitoes,” Wendy said. “They apparently don’t have mosquitoes in Japan.”
Youth For Understanding is one of the world’s oldest and most respected intercultural exchange programs. The program is designed to help host families and guest students gain a new global perspective, make new bonds, create good memories and share what they have experienced with others in their lives.
More than 270,000 students and their host families have participated in YFU through the past 65 years.
To find out how to be a host family, to study abroad or to become a volunteer, visit yfuusa.org.