Name: Sarah Blumenstock Girrell, Kris Girrell + their son, Jesse Girrell
Occupation: Business owner
Location: North of Boston in Andover, MA
Relationship to Cultural Vistas: Sarah, Kris and Jesse have been a full-time Host Family since 2014, having hosted 8 on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals program for a full year.
Within the Cultural Vistas international community of participants, alumni, host companies and families, cross-cultural connections abound. Our programs facilitate professional experiences across the globe and allow participants to meet people from all backgrounds whether at school, at work, or at home. The experience of hosting an exchange student is one that Sarah and her family weren’t so sure about at first.
Eleven years ago, Sarah received a call from her friend who is an alumna of the CBYX for Young Professionals exchange program. When Cultural Vistas was looking for people to host participants on short term stays of 2-3 day visits, she suggested Sarah give it a try. Sarah was excited, but the idea of taking someone into their home made her husband a bit nervous. But that’s where the power of positive exchange comes into play. This could be a good experience for their 12 year old son, Jesse, an only child. So, in 2010, they welcomed the first of many exchange students to their home.
By 2012, they became a full-time host family, welcoming German CBYX participants for a full year and have added to their transatlantic family every year since. They will become even more a part of our exchange world this summer when Jesse, who is now 23, will head to Germany as an American participant of the CBYX for Young Professionals program.
We interviewed Sarah about her experience as a host-mom and what she’s learned along the way:
Why do you think it is important for people to live with a family while experiencing a new culture? The international aspect is so interesting. People do things differently, but people are actually the same. You really see this by experiencing it together, having cultural experiences like Christmas in a different home, eating meals with new ingredients, navigating relationships–it enriches your life.
“I love the world we show them and I love the world they introduce us to.”
– Sarah Blumenstock Girrell
What are some things that have surprised you about your exchange “children”?
German kids don’t know how to write a check! They are amazed when filling up gas and marvel at how big the cars are. Also – every one of the kids who has come to stay with us has been told that Americans just eat fast food and an unhealthy diet and are surprised by how healthy we eat. I always take them to the grocery store the first week they arrive so they can show me what they like to eat and I can help them find what they are looking for. Mostly, I notice that having come from multi-generational homes and being older than the average American when finishing high school, they are eager to learn, grow, give and be part of the family.
What advice would you give to those interested in hosting international participants? Each kid has brought so much to our life, there’s a lot of love there. You help raise them. It’s a relationship for the long-term. We hosted the parents of one of our children while on vacation in the U.S., went to the wedding of one host son in Germany, and kept in touch with them all. My advice to potential host families is to be flexible. We were supposed to have a participant stay with us in 2020, but the arrangement was canceled due to the pandemic. Luckily, we are expecting to find out this June who we are hosting next at the same time seeing our son off to Germany where he already has a family waiting to welcome him.
To learn more about opportunities to host a CBYX for Young Professionals exchange participant, contact Max Flescher: firstname.lastname@example.org